Newly discovered animal fossils solve age old riddle

22 November 2014

A number of age-old riddles concerning the common ancestor for animals such as the horse, the rhino and the tapir have been solved thanks to newly discovered animal fossils, reported.

Around 56 million years ago there lived a group of animals called Perissodactyla. The so-called ''odd-toed'' ungulate - basically any animal with odd-numbered toes belonged to this group. The fossil record, however, was rather thin when it came to good examples of the animal group.

However, scientists from Johns Hopkins University uncovered a new Perissodactyla specimen, known as the Cambatherium thewissi that served as the missing link between early animals and several of today's four-legged mammals.

The search for early Perissodactyla fossils was long and arduous with researchers combing paleontological digs in Wyoming before moving sites to India in 2001.The researchers finally discovered the missing link in an open-pit coal mine near Mumbai: 200 Cambatherium thewissi fossils. The mining company allowed excavations when the mine was active; however with the mine now filled up researchers were looking for another site to choose.

However, the massive find in India yielded impressive results and an analysis of the fossils showed that Cambaytherium was likely to be the youngest Perissodactylia discovered, with the animal having traits that bridged the gap between older and younger animals, reported.

Furthermore, the findings neatly linked geographical and biological evolution, according to Ken Rose, professor of functional anatomy and evolution at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Around Cambaytherium's time, India was probably an island, but it also had primates and a rodent similar to those living in Europe at the time, he said, adding that one possible explanation was that India passed close by the Arabian Peninsula or the Horn of Africa, and there was a land bridge that allowed the animals to migrate, but Cambaytherium was unique and suggested that India was indeed isolated for a while.

Thanks to the large number of fossils discovered the researchers were able to come up with a clear idea about how Cambaytherium thewissi, which weighed between 45 and 75 pounds. The online journal Nature Communications published the study this week.

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