Di­nosaurs, fly­ing mam­mals co­ex­isted in China

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE -

PARIS — In dense Chi­nese forests pop­u­lated by di­nosaurs 160 mil­lion years ago, two furry crit­ters re­sem­bling fly­ing squir­rels glided from tree to tree, show­ing that even in such a per­ilous neigh­bor­hood early mam­mals had suc­ceeded in go­ing air­borne.

Sci­en­tists an­nounced on Wed­nes­day the dis­cov­ery of fos­sils of two Juras­sic Pe­riod glid­ing mam­mals so well-pre­served and com­plete that they show the wing­like skin mem- branes the crea­tures em­ployed while glid­ing ef­fort­lessly be­tween trees.

The two species, Maiopatag­ium fur­culiferum from Liaon­ing prov­ince and Vilevolodon diplomy­los un­earthed about 60 kilo­me­ters away in He­bei prov­ince, come from an ex­tinct early mam­malian side branch.

One of the crit­ters was about 23 cen­time­ters from head to tail, and the other 8 cm with­out its tail, which was miss­ing.

These two and an­other ap­par­ent glider from about the same time that was de­scribed in 2006 were the van­guard of the mam­malian air force. It was not un­til more than 100 mil­lion years later that bats, which use pow­ered flight like birds, and more glid­ing mam­mals ap­peared, fol­low­ing the di­nosaurs’ demise.

Mam­mals first ap­peared roughly 210 mil­lion years ago. These fos­sils un­der­score that early mam­mals were not merely cow­er­ing at the feet of dino- saurs but boasted a range of body plans and life­styles. They in­cluded beaver-tailed swim­mers, tree climbers, hop­pers, bor­row­ers and small car­ni­vores that ate baby di­nosaurs.

“De­spite liv­ing in di­nosaur-dom­i­nated ecosys­tems, early mam­mals di­ver­si­fied into many eco­log­i­cal niches,” said Univer­sity of Chicago pa­le­on­tol­o­gist Luo Zhexi, who led the re­search pub­lished in the jour­nal Na­ture.

APRIL I. NEANDER / UNIVER­SITY OF CHICAGO / AFP

An­cient mam­mals that evolved to glide and live in trees are shown in an artist’s ren­di­tion.

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