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17 April 2014 12:48 pm ,
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Officials last week revealed that the U.S. contribution to ITER could cost $3.9 billion by 2034—roughly four times the...
An experimental hepatitis B drug that looked safe in animal trials tragically killed five of 15 patients in 1993. Now,...
Using the two high-quality genomes that exist for Neandertals and Denisovans, researchers find clues to gene activity...
A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that humanity has done little to slow...
Astronomers have discovered an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of a red dwarf—a star cooler than the sun—500...
Three years ago, Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University proposed that a warming Arctic was altering the behavior of the...
- 17 April 2014 12:48 pm , Vol. 344 , #6181
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Ancient Mammals Get Airborne
13 December 2006 (All day)
When mammals first evolved some 200 million years ago, the dinosaurs reigned supreme. For eons, conventional wisdom has it, mammals survived by staying small, nocturnal, and unspecialized. Only after dinos went extinct 65 million years ago did mammals come into their own. In the past few years, however, a string of new discoveries has shown that mammals actually diversified early on and developed a variety of tricks for making a living. The finds include an insectivore specialized for digging and a fish-eating, beaver-like creature.
The newest addition to the crowd is Volitcotheria antiquus, a 14-centimeter-long mammal from Inner Mongolia. Its most impressive feature is a large membrane of skin that stretched between the front and rear limbs. "It was really a surprise when we saw this," says paleontologist Jin Meng of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, who describes the fossil this week in Nature with several colleagues.
The skin is clearly an adaptation for gliding, Meng says, and would have allowed the tree-climber to glide from branch to branch. With its squarish wing-surface, Volitcotheria probably wasn't chasing prey while in the air. But gliding would have been useful for escaping predators, like the flying pterosaurs that lived at the same time. At somewhere between 130 million and 164 million years old, the fossil is by far the oldest known flying mammal. The next oldest is a 51-million-year-old bat from Wyoming.
"The total range of ecological diversification is so much greater than we thought possible 5 years ago," says Zhexi Luo of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. "This paints a new picture."