Saturday, January 18, 2014

Found! The cute, fuzzy ancestor of bears, wolverines and your kitty (To read with the kids)

Did you know that your kittycat and the wild hyenas of Africa evolved from the same animal? Kids, meet Dormaalocyon Latouri, or Dorma for short.

Dorma was a small, 2-pound, squirrelish, tree-loving mammal living about 55 million years ago in what is now Europe. Scientists have discovered a new bunch of fossilized teeth from Dorma and figured out that she is the ancestor of lots of animals alive today, including our excellent kitty, Mr. Opposite, and your excellent kitty, if you have one.

What does it mean to be Mr. Opposite's ancestor, you ask? Well, take a look at Mr. Opposite's Family Tree #1 (which contains females only to keep it simple.) You can see that Mr. Opposite and his sister share one mom kitty. He and his cousins don't have the same mother of course, but they do share one grandma kitty with Mr. Opposite. If we include his second cousins too, you can see that all twelve cousins share one great grandma kitty. Let's call her Norma. (Hi, Norma!)

Norma lived maybe ten years ago, long enough ago for her to have her two babies, for those babies to grow up and have their babies, and for them grow up and have more babies, including Mr. Opposite, who is alive today. Because she is the shared great-grandma, Norma is the ancestor of Mr. Opposite and all his cousins.

Family trees can go back waaaaay longer than ten years. They can go back so far that they show the evolution of one kind of animal into another. Check out Mr. Opposite's Family Tree #2, which goes back 55 million years, to Dorma's time.

You can see from this tree that Dorma is the shared ancestor not only of Mr. Opposite, but also of all his distant cousins alive today: coyotes, eared seals, wolverines, skunks, red pandas, bears, raccoons, mongoose, hyenas, civets, and African civets!

Even though Dorma went extinct a long, long time ago, she left us all these fuzzy mammalian carnivores, one of whom is in my lap purring as I write this.

Thanks, Dorma, you're the greatest.

No comments:

Post a Comment