Further analysis of fossils from one of the most important paleontological sites in Eastern Europe led to the discovery of a new species of pangolin, which was previously believed to have existed in Europe during the early Pleistocene. but not confirmed so far.
“This is not a fancy fossil,” said Claire Terhune, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Arkansas. “It’s only one bone, but it’s a strange new species of animal. We are proud of this because the fossil record of pangolins is extremely rare. This one happens to be the youngest pangolin ever discovered in Europe and the only Pleistocene pangolin fossil in Europe. “
The bone, a humerus – or arm bone – came from Grăunceanu, a rich fossil deposit in the valley of the Olteţ River in Romania. For almost a decade, Terhune and an international team of researchers focused their attention on Grăunceanu and other sites in Olteţ. These sites, originally discovered following landslides in the 1960s, have produced fossils of a wide variety of animal species, including a great land ape, a short-necked giraffe, rhinos, and toothed cats. saber, in addition to the new species of pangolin.
“What is particularly exciting is that although some work in the 1930s suggested the presence of pangolins in Europe during the Pleistocene, these fossils had been lost and other researchers doubted their validity,” said Terhune. “Now we know for sure that pangolins were present in Europe at least 2 million years ago.”
Modern pangolins exist in Asia and Africa. Often referred to as scaly anteaters, they look a bit like armadillos that roam the southern United States. With scales from head to tail, they are sometimes mistaken for reptiles, but modern pangolins are actually mammals and are more closely related to carnivores. They are also among the most trafficked animals in the world. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, the eight species of pangolins living on two continents range from “vulnerable” to “critically endangered”.
The new pangolin fossil is between 1.9 and 2.2 million years old, placing it in the Pleistocene era range, which stretched from about 2.6 million years ago to about 11,700 year. The identification of this fossil as a pangolin is important because previous research suggested that pangolins disappeared from European paleontological records during the Middle Miocene, over 10 million years ago. Previous work has hypothesized that pangolins were pushed to more tropical and subtropical equatorial environments due to global cooling trends.
As the youngest and best-documented fossil pangolin in Europe and the only Pleistocene fossil in Europe, the new species revises an earlier understanding of pangolin evolution and biogeography. Smutsia olteniensis, as the new species is called, shares several unique traits with other living members of the genus Smutsia, which is currently only found in Africa.
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Material provided by University of Arkansas. Original written by Matt McGowan. Note: Content can be changed for style and length.