When you think about creatures that might survive an apocalypse event, you might think about cockroaches or some kind of armored lizard. A critter that is small and furry and, frankly, kind of cute isn’t what immediately comes to mind. Yet, after nearly 75 percent of the species on Earth were wiped out some 66 million years ago, that’s just what happened. This morning, scientists from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln announced the discovery of a furry plant-eating mammal that lived just a few hundred thousand years after the dinosaurs went extinct. The three-foot-long animal had buck-toothed incisors, making it look a bit like the beavers we’re familiar with today.
The fossilized remains of Kimbetopsalis simmonsae were discovered in northwestern New Mexico’s badlands, where an undergraduate student stumbled upon a set of strange black molars that nobody in the research party had ever seen before. The discovery marks the first new species of this type of mammal found in the area in more than 100 years.
Scientists believe the ancient critter didn’t look all that different from modern day beavers. New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science curator of paleontology Thomas Williamson said that, if someone saw one today, “They would probably think something like, ‘Hey, look at that little beaver! Why doesn’t it have a flat tail?’”
When the dinosaurs went extinct, along with three-quarters of the other animals on the planet, the species that survived were obviously quite resilient. This beaver-like creature, traced to a period of time soon after the extinction, in relative terms, exhibits some characteristics that are quite different than most people would expect. For instance, they are larger than most of the mammals that coexisted with the dinosaurs, and their plant-based diet was rare. These features are a strong indication of how quickly evolution was taking place.
This specimen of Kimbetopsalis was a member of a mammalian group called multituberculates which went extinct about 35 million years ago. Despite that, the group is considered extremely successful by scientists who study them, since they survived for 120 million years before disappearing forever.
Images via Sarah Shelley, University of Edinburgh and Thomas E. Williamson, New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science