Monday, August 22, 2016

In the news: Found! A Squirrel-like Mammal as old as the Dinosaurs

As a kid, I (Rob) have always been fascinated by dinosaurs and the prehistoric mammals of the Ice Age. Recently, scientists
found a squirrel-like creature that lived during the time of the dinosaurs! Here's the article from the Washington Post:

Scientists finally found Zenkerella, the world’s most mysterious mammal

By Sarah Kaplan
   The specimen sat in alcohol at the bottom of an opaque plastic container. Its luxuriant black fur was dark and matted, its characteristic tail curled. David Fernandez peered at the odd-looking critter, which he'd spent the better part of the past year trying to track down, and hoped it was the real thing.
The second male specimen of Zenkerella insignis was found near the village of Ureca on Bioko, an island off the west coast of Africa. (Steven Heritage)
  Fernandez had worked on Bioko Island in Equatorial Guinea for 14 years, but he'd never seen one of these animals in its entirety before. No scientist ever had.
just for fun...
  He lifted the specimen out of its container and snapped a photo with his phone. Then he texted the image to his colleague Erik Seiffert, one of the few people in the world who would recognize the creature.
Seiffert immediately texted back: That's Zenkerella.
"I think he was even more excited than I was," Fernandez recalled. "It was amazing, the first entire specimen available for us, and for science basically."
  Zenkerella insignis, the critter caught on Bioko, is one of the world's most ancient and mysterious mammals. Until now, it was known only by its fossils and 11 scattered specimens, many of which had been languishing in natural history collections for over 100 years. Researchers who were interested in the species (and there aren't many) had little to go on aside from a hind limb here, a few teeth there. No scientist in history has ever seen it alive.
   But, in a study published Tuesday in the journal PeerJ, Fernandez, Seiffert and their colleagues describe the capture of three freshly killed Z. insignis specimens. The discovery means that, for the first time, scientists were able to examine the genome of one of the bizarre mammals, and finally figure out where Zenkerella fits in our evolutionary family tree.
   Members of the Zenkerella genus are creatures of another world, "living fossils" that have evolved very little over the past 49 million years. For context, they're only about 15 million years younger than the dinosaurs, and some 35 million years older than the oldest great apes. When they first arose, Australia was still connected to Antarctica, and the Himalayas didn't even exist yet.
An illustration of a Zenkerella skeleton and map of Bioko Island are superimposed against an image of the rain forest where the Zenkerella specimens were found. (Erik Seiffert)
  "It's a long lineage that stretches all the way back 50 million years, and we only have one species left that we don’t know anything about," Seiffert said. "We don't know when it is active, or what it eats, or if it spends all of its time in the trees or on the ground."   That's pretty much unprecedented for mammals, which are among the best-researched taxonomic classes of creatures.
  Zenkerella is the ultimate survivor. Of the 5,400 mammal species known to science, only it and five others are the sole surviving members of ancient lineages. Even among that select group, Zenkerella's living fossil status makes it almost unique. But it is the least studied of all these ancient creatures.




Gift/Memorial Suggestions

Several of our friends have lost loved ones (human and pets) and we found that one of the best ways to honor their memory is to give to an animal charity.
What better way to recognize a life of love, than by giving another life a chance for love?
We donate to many animal rescues, but because we volunteer with
DC Weimaraner Rescue and Coast-to-Coast Dachshund Rescue, those are our 2 favorites.
Consider giving the chance of life to a dog or cat.

About us

We're two married guys who enjoy the simple things in life, especially our dogs. We volunteer for dog rescues, enjoy splitting dinners, exercising, blogging, helping friends and neighbors, ghost investigations, coffee and tea, Tudor history, weather, superheroes, comic books, mystery novels, traveling, 70s and 80s music, classic country, piano, gardening, writing books on ghosts and spirits, architecture, keeping a clean house, cooking simply, and keeping in shape. You'll find tidbits of all of these things on this blog and more.

Tom and Rob Thinking Hard!

Tom and Rob Thinking Hard!
Wondering what home project to do next