According to a recently published paper, scientists unearth fossil with almost perfectly preserved skin and hair. The fossil belongs to a hedgehog-like mammal from the dinosaur era called Spinolestes xenarthrosus.
The fossil, which was found on a site in central Spain, has incredibly well-preserved soft tissue such as skin, hair, and even internal organs. The research team was able to find its liver, lung, and diaphragm.
The study on the findings was published this week in the journal Nature.
Dr Zhe-Xi Luo said that the creature is so well preserved that it can be analyzed with an electron microscope down to its cellular level.
Study authors acknowledged that in paleontology it is not a common sight to find preserved soft tissues of ancient animals. Researchers usually find hard tissue such as bones and teeth. Hints on how the animals looked like, if they had feather or scales they get from impressions.
“Normally you find bones and you find skeletons – and there are many, many fossil mammal skeletons found, but never these soft parts in such great detail,”
said lead author of the study Prof. Thomas Martin, a paleontologist with the University of Bonn, in Germany.
The analysis revealed that the animals’ fossilized lungs showed the pattern for the two airways, while in the cavity that was once its abdomen there was a reddish spot. Study authors believe that the spot was generated by the critter’s liver, which contains a lot of iron. Fossilized liver tissue has a reddish color.
The Cretaceous creature, however, was not larger than a medium-sized rat and weighed between 0.11 and 0.15 pounds. Researchers also found a well-preserved external ear, which is larger than in most rat species.
The team concluded that the critter relied more on hearing over sight when it went out at night to hunt. It also had small spines on its back like modern day spiny mice, and scales on its lower back just like armadillos have. The spines were detachable so every predator trying to grab the mouse ended up with a mouth full of spines.
Their natural predators were tiny dinosaurs, which were also unearthed at the site. Scientists also found birds, frogs and crocodiles there. They believe that the climate was much hotter in those days and that the animals lived in a swampy environment.
Researchers do not yet know for sure how exactly the animal was so well preserved.
Image Source: Wikipedia
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