Paleontologists at the University of Bonn in Germany have an exciting piece of news – they found an ancient rodent fossil has well-preserved organs and fur. The fossil, which was dated to the age of dinosaurs, is the most remarkably preserved animal remains from that time.
Surprisingly, Spinolestes xenarthrosus’ fur and soft tissue were preserved to our days. A paper on the finding was published this week in the journal Nature. Scientists said that the rodent is the oldest specimen with fossilized organs.
Thomas Martin, lead author of the discovery and researcher at the University of Bonn, said that his team was puzzled with the discovery.
“Normally, in paleontology, you only see mineralized hard parts, like the bones,”
He also noted that in other fossils the hair on mammals can only be seen from fossilized impressions, but the newly found rodent dubbed by scientists the “cute furball” has hair that is so well-preserve you can analyze it down to cellular level.
The newly found fossil also provided scientists with other clues on how the animals lived and feed. It probably lived in the region that is now Spain, was the size of an adult rat, fed on bugs and had fur just like rats do today.
The fossil was so well-preserved that researchers were able to detect compound follicles in the animals’ fur. This means that from a single pore grew multiple hairs. The ancient rodent had spines on its back just like those found in other species like the African spiny mouse.
Scientists are still debating on how the ancient rodent fossil has well-preserved organs and fur. They are set to perform chemical analyses to crack the mystery open. They speculate that the animal was preserved via a process known as phosphatic fossilization.
But the fur was not the only thing that was remarkably preserved. Internal organs such as lungs, liver and diaphragm withstood the test of time. Researchers also found a well preserved large ear. Plus, hints pointed out that the animal had skin plates on its body just like armadillos have today.
The research team believes that the strange animal was hunting at night so it probably relied more on hearing over sight. While its armadillo-like spine must have helped the creature to push logs from one place to another and gain access to hidden insects, its back spines must have kept it safe from predators. Additionally, the diaphragm suggests that the animal had a complex metabolism.
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