If you feel like you’ve had some drawn-out breakups, they probably have nothing on the supercontinent of Pangaea, which took tens of millions of years to split up. But now, a unique fossil skull might readjust the timeline, with a strange creature turning up on a different continent to its previously-discovered relatives.
The skull was found in relatively good condition, telling the researchers quite a lot about the animal it belonged to. The creature – a new species – was dubbed Cifelliodon wahkarmoosuch, and it would have grown to about the size of a rabbit and weighed about 2.5 lb (1.1 kg). Its teeth suggest a diet of fruit and plants, while its tiny eye sockets and huge olfactory bulbs indicate poor eyesight and a keen sense of smell.
“For a long time, we thought early mammals from the Cretaceous (145 to 66 million years ago) were anatomically similar and not ecologically diverse,” says Adam Huttenlocker, lead author of a study describing the species. “This finding by our team and others reinforce that, even before the rise of modern mammals, ancient relatives of mammals were exploring specialty niches: insectivores, herbivores, carnivores, swimmers, gliders. Basically, they were occupying a variety of niches that we see them occupy today.”