In Orange County of southern California, paleontologists have discovered an ancient ancestor of today’s manatees and hippos.

Lawrence Barnes from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County describes the new species in his paper published in the journal Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County Contributions in Science, from September 11, 2013.

The 10- to 11- million-year-old fossil, a complete skeleton, belongs to Neoparadoxia cecilialina. The new species was a member of the order Desmostylia – extinct four-limbed marine placental mammals that munched on sea-growing vegetation in the pacific ocean from the Oligocene to the Miocene. The modern common hippopotamus is the closest living analog to a desmostylian – like the ancient order, hippos are placental mammals that eat only plants and live in water habitats. N. cecilialina represents the most recent and most complete fossil desmostylian yet discovered.

This particular N. cecilialina was an impressive creature: at a length of 8 feet long, it had a relatively small head and enormous feet, which were probably useful for paddling quickly through prehistoric oceans. It also had other advanced adaptations for marine life: enlarged external nostrils that faced upwards for breathing on the surface of the water, upturned eyes, and a large mouth for water feeding. These features probably helped N. cecilialina outcompete other herbivores vying for the same vegetation in the ancient pacific sea.

Barnes determined that the N. cecilialina specimen died as a young adult, of yet unknown reasons. Just like us, most other animals show a marked difference between teeth earlier in life and later in life. Barnes’ N. cecilialina had unerupted adult molars – characterizing it as a juvenile.

N. cecilialina’s fossil skeleton can be viewed at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Source: Barnes, L.. (2013, September 11) .A new genus and species of late Miocene Paleoparadoxiid (Mammalia, Desmostylia) from California. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County Contributions in Science, (521), 51–114; Retrieved from: http://www.nhm.org/site/sites/default/files/pdf/contrib_science/CS521.51-114.pdf

The Paleontological Research Institution, Ithaca, New York, is pleased to sponsor Paleontology content for This View of Life. Founded in 1932, PRI has outstanding programs in research, collections, and publications, and is a national leader in development of informal Earth science education resources for educators and the general public.


Published On: November 18, 2013

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