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Tiny Fossil Sheds Light on Mammalian Evolution

In the most recent issue of Science, a team of American and Chinese scientists announced the discovery of the fossil of a tiny shrew-like creature that lived 195 million years ago, 45 million years before previously discovered mammals. Found in 1985 in Yunnan province, China, the fossil was originally believed to be merely a bone fragment because of its small size. It has now been named Hadrocodium wui, ("Fullhead"), and could possibly be the direct ancestor of all living mammals. Hadrocodium was an insectivore, eating worms and small insects. Though it weighed only two grams (the weight of a paper clip), Hadrocodium had a considerably larger brain than most known mammals from the early Jurassic period. The tiny skull also possesses three other key traits that are characteristic of the transition from mammal-like animals to true mammals: a three-bone middle ear separated from the jaw, matching upper and lower teeth, and a powerful jaw hinge. Readers can begin learning more about this discovery with the Science article. Additional coverage is provided by Discovery news, the BBC, National Geographic, ABC News, and CNN.
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