The fossil of an early mammal named the "crazy beast" that lived 66 million years ago on Madagascar was uncovered by researchers, and the mammal is unlike any mammal ever known, living or extinct.
The newly discovered mammal is about the size of an opossum and had a mix of strange characteristics that is said to have never been seen together before. The characteristics highlight the evolutionary strangeness that can happen from evolution when it occurs in isolation on islands like Madagascar.
What the researchers discovered is the most complete and well-preserved skeleton of a mammal gondwanatherian, which is a mammal that lived on the ancient southern supercontinent Gondwana, which is now the continents of the southern hemisphere. The fossils are from the Mesozoic era, between 65 million and 252 million years ago, and what they found are sparse from Gondwana, including items such as bits of the jaw bone, single skull, and teeth.
The skeleton of the mammal is so well preserved that it includes small bones, cartilaginous tissue, and the mammal's short tail. Based on the artist sketch, the mammal looks a bit like a badger. The researchers named their discovery Adalatherium hui, which is a hybrid name that combines the Malagasy word for "crazy" and the Greek word for "beast". Hui is a tribute to the late Yaoming Hui, a study co-author at Stony Brook University.
Researchers believe that the creature was a juvenile, weighing around seven pounds. But compared to the other Gondwana mammals that lived at that time, it was quite large. It lived among dinosaurs and ancient crocodiles before the asteroid impact wiped them all out 66 million years ago.
The weird 'crazy beast'
According to the lead study author and senior curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, David Krause, knowing what they know about the skeletal anatomy of all living and extinct mammals, it is difficult to imagine that a mammal-like Adalatherium could have evolved, as it bends and even breaks a lot of rules. The study was published in the journal Nature.
The skeleton contains a lot of strange features that left researchers baffled. Adalatherium had more holes on its face than any known mammal, the holes are called foramina, and created pathways for blood vessels and nerves thus leading to a sensitive snout that was covered in whiskers.
The teeth are also different as they are structured in a strange way that can't be explained. The backbone contained more vertebrae than any known mammal from the Mesozoic era, suggesting that it may have walked in a strange way because the front half of the animal does not match the back half. One of its back legs was bowed.
The shoulders and forearms can be compared to dogs and cats, meaning that they were placed under the body. The hind legs are the opposite pattern, suggesting that the legs spread out and had more sprawling knee joints like reptiles. Two patterns in one animal mean that it walked very differently than anything living today.
The Adalatherium also had strong, long claws on its back legs, suggesting that it dug using its hind legs. Researchers stated that figuring out how the mammal moved is nearly impossible because its front end is telling a different story than its back end.
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