Life reconstruction of the new fossil mammal, as a chipmunk-sized animal. Credit: MA Klingler, CMNH
On October 8, 2009, NSF announced the discovery of a new species of mammal that lived 123 million years ago. A newly discovered chipmunk-sized animal, named Maotherium asiaticus, has been found in the famous fossil-rich beds of the Yixian Formation in the Liaoning Province in China. This has been reported in this week's issue of the journal Science, by Luo and colleagues from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.
The non believers of evolution are constantly up in arms about missing links that apparently go to prove that there was no such thing! This fossil mammal may represent an intermediate stage in the evolutionary process of how modern mammals acquired a middle ear structure. Studying this well preserved fossil led the Chinese and American scientists to believe that even though it is closely related to marsupials and placentals in other features, the middle ear bones of Maotherium are similar to those of modern mammals. But unlike modern mammals, it’s middle ear has an unusual connection to its lower jaw. This connection, also known as the ossified Meckel's cartilage, resembles the embryonic condition of living mammals and the primitive middle ear of pre-mammalian ancestors. These mammal middle ear bones evolved from the bones of the jaw hinge in reptilian relatives.
Richard Lane, program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Division of Earth Sciences emphasizes how the intricate middle ear structure allows mammals to have more sensitive hearing in a wider range of sounds than other vertebrates. This was crucial for mammals to develop nocturnal adaptations and to survive in the dinosaur-dominated world around 250 to 66 million years ago. It is the sensory organ that allows us to listen to our fellow humans in conversation or in the creative arts. The new ear connection may only be a simple adaptation caused by changes in development , rather than an evolutionary link. (me: now if only we could ONLY start to hear and listen together……!!)
The Science paper is co-authored by paleontologists Qiang Ji of the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences in Beijing and Xinliang Zhang of the Henan Provincial Geological Museum, along with other collaborators. The researchers also received support from the National Natural Science Foundation (China), Ministry of Science and Technology (China), and National Geographic Society.Press Release 09-194 -NSF-
After word: I have often wondered at the collegial and cooperative scientific projects across the world that yield robust discussions benefiting mankind in more ways than one and result in greater understanding. We cooperate and compete during the Olympics and other world events. Music, art, math all benefit from competitive cooperation and still remain significantly unique. Why is it that in geo-politics the cracks in human nature get magnified and unbridgeable and the unique quality and strength of every culture is seen as a detriment leading to distrust and division?