According to a new study, which took a closer look at two Jurassic period fossils, the first gliding mammals may have been soaring through the skies and over the dinosaurs’ heads. Research determines that these specimens are some 160 million years ago, and they are the earliest flying mammals discovered as of yet.
First Gliding Mammals Fossils Discovered in China
The two rare fossils were discovered some years back in the Tiaojishan Formation, which is to the north-east of Beijing, in China. Both of the specimens were exceptionally preserved, as they still displayed membranes and retained its arms and legs still attached to the body.
The two gliding mammal specimens were one named the Maiopatagium furculiferum, and the other was called the Vilevolodon diplomylos. This latter is somewhat smaller than the Maiopatagium, but both are little, in general.
The bigger of the two came to just about 9 inches long, from head to tail. Both of the discovered specimens still presented the membranes that helped them glide, as they were exceptionally preserved.
Taken together with their hand, foot and limb proportions, these all suggested that the animals had developed a new “gliding locomotion and behavior”, according to the study team.
The limbs of these gliding mammals were lightweight, delicate, and long. However, they were also strong enough as to support the wing membrane.
Incredible Finds Points to Bigger Diversity in the Mesozoic
“These Jurassic mammals are truly ‘the first in glide. In a way, they got the first wings among all mammals,” stated the study co-author, Zhe-Xi Luo, part of the University of Chicago.
University of Chicago’s David Grossnickle, another study author, also pointed out that “It’s amazing that the aerial adaptions occurred so early in the history of mammals.”
According to the study team, these amazing ‘winged’ animals belonged to a family of now extinct mammals called the haramiyidans.
The researchers also point out that the discovery of these incredible gliding mammals paints a new picture of the Mesozoic landscape. One that might not have dominated solely by dinosaurs, as initially believed.
The team considers that each new mammalian fossil contemporary to the age of dinosaurs is helping paint a clearer image of the diversity of both their feeding and locomotor adaptations.
A study paper with the general finds was released in the journal Nature, and a supplement describing the gliders’ feeding habits was published alongside it.
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