Researchers have made what can only be described as an astonishing discovery, having found a remarkably well-preserved mammal fossil dating from 125 million years ago. The mammal was discovered in Spain, near the town of Cuenca.
What makes this discovery so important? Scientists actually uncovered soft tissue, an incredibly rare find. Indeed, the soft tissue found is certainly the oldest for any known mammal, the next closest being
Researchers have found what may be the oldest soft tissue fossil ever discovered, having come across the skin and hairs of the so called
One of the lead authors of the study, Professor Thomas Martin of the University of Bonn claimed the fossil “is the best-preserved mammal fossil from the Mesozoic.”
The so-called Spinolestes xenarthrosus, is a rodent-like mammal that resembles a big-eared possum about the size of a rate.
Previously, scientists have found a few soft tissue samples of dinosaurs, including soft tissue from what scientists believe was a t-rex that lived some 68 million years ago. Further, scientists found some red blood cells and collagen fibers in some shards of bones dated to 75 million years ago.
Soft tissue is occasionally preserved by certain environmental factors. With the t-rex tissue, scientists point to red blood cells, for example. Further, finding the soft tissue of woolly mammoths frozen in arctic tundras is common, at least by paleontology standards.
While bones will often calcify to form fossils, soft tissue is rarely preserved as it is much more fragile and prone to decaying. The next closest mammalian soft tissue sample came from 60 million years earlier
The 125 million year old hedgehog like mammal came equipped with prickly spines, and according to scientists resembled a sort of big-eared possum with hedgehog spines. The discovery came as a surprise because previously scientists assumed that such spines were a more recent invention.
The Spinolestes xenarthrosus also featured several other unique features, including over sized ears, which suggest that it relied on hearing, rather than sight. The mammal was about the size of a modern rat.
The combination of big ears, a pointed face, and a furry underbelly has often stoic scientists labeling the mammal as “cute”. Professor Martin described the mammal as “cute, very cute it looked like a modern spiny mouse, which is also quite cute.”
Having lived 125 million years ago, the mammal was alive during the age of the dinosaurs. Despite overwhelming competition from the larger dinosaurs, it appears that mammals were evolving and adapting into comparatively advanced animals.
The results of the study were published in the journal Nature. Besides Professor Martin, Professors Hugo Martín-Abad, Jesús Marugán-Lobón, Zhe-Xi Luo, Romain Vullo & Angela D. Buscalioni contributed to the study.