Newly uncovered fossils reveal the origins of a number of mammals including cats, dogs, bears, and seals.
The fossils are examples of an early species in the 55 million year-old mammal group called "carnivoraformes," a Society of Vertebrate Paleontology news release reported.
The species is called Dormaalocyon latouri. It has been recognized in the past but these fossils, which were found in Belgium, allow researchers to look at the species with new clarity.
"[It's] description allows better understanding of the origination, variability and ecology of the earliest carnivoraforms," lead author Floréal Solé said.
The newly discovered fossils consist of 250 teeth and ankle bones. The finding even contains baby teeth, and allows researchers to understand the species' full dental structure.
The primitive appearance of these teeth suggest Dormaalocyon may be an earlier relative of carnivoraforms. The researchers suggest Dormaalocyon's origin was in Europe.
The species' ankle bones suggest it was tree dweller, living duringawarm and humid period 55 million years ago. The species was alive right after the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (or PETM), this was an abnormally warm period that affected the evolution of a number of species.
The researchers believe the fact that the species moved through the trees and popped up in North America shortly afterwards "supports the existence of a continuous evergreen forest belt at high latitudes during the PETM," Doctor Solé said in the news release.
"The understanding of the origination of the carnivoraforms is important for reconstructing the adaptation of placental mammals to carnivorous diet. Therefore, Dormaalocyon provides information concerning the evolution of placental mammals after the disappearance of the largest dinosaurs (at the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event). Our study shows that the carnivoraforms were very diversified at the earliest Eocene, which allows hypothesizing that they were probably already diversified during the latest Paleocene," doctor Solé said.