Half-Reptile, Half-Mammal Fossil Discovered In Utah
New fossil set to challenge current understanding of Cretaceous period timeline.
A surprising discovery has been made in Utah in the form of a fossilized skull. Found near Arches Park, on the Bureau of Land Management property, the remains are an important find due to their antiquity, coming in at approximately 130 million years old, and also due to the fact that they belong to a creature that is half reptilian and half mammal.
Adam Huttenlocker, leader of the research undertaken on the skull, reports its discovery is important as it offers new information of mammal-type creatures during the Cretaceous period. Initially, it was thought that mammals of that era were pretty much uniform. But the CW demonstrates that there were in fact creatures in that early time that were able to do things similar to modern mammals such as fly, swim and have diverse abilities when it comes to food.
Another perhaps larger result of this discovery is that it may change the geological timeline for the formation of modern continents. Pangea is said to be a massive continent consisting of most of the current landforms. Originally thought to have begun its break down and slow drift towards a more modern looking globe, the CW may mean that the supercontinent started its separation about 15 million years later. The estimation of the supercontinents prior breakdown period is largely due to the scientific evaluation of fossils. Huttenlocher's paper was published in Nature on May 16 and suggests what is described as a “burst of evolution” in relation to mammals of the period.
“Based on the unlikely discovery of this near-complete fossil cranium, we now recognize a new, cosmopolitan group of early mammal relatives.
For a long time, we thought early mammals from the Cretaceous (145 million to 66 million years ago) were anatomically similar and not ecologically diverse.
This finding by our team and others reinforce that, even before the rise of modern mammals, ancient relatives of mammals were exploring specialty niches: insectivores, herbivores, carnivores, swimmers, gliders. Basically, they were occupying a variety of niches that we see them occupy today.”
The new fossil was found by paleontologist Andrew RC Milner but appears to have been either initially misplaced or simply unrecognized for what it was as it was transported with the remains of an Iguanodont called Hippodraco, a species that is determined to have lived in Utah around the same period as the CW. The skull was discovered beneath the Hippodraco’s foot. Currently, the fossil is on display at the Natural History Museum of Utah.