Monday, 7 December 2015

Are these weird creatures the giraffe’s long-lost cousins?

DECEMBER 7, 2015

by Chuck Bednar

Fossils belonging to an ancient, bizarre-looking three-horned ruminant indicate that the creature was a long-lost cousin of the modern-day giraffe, a team of researchers from the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales in Madrid, Spain reported last week in the journal PLOS One.

The fossils, which were discovered in central Spain, were previously attributed to a relative of a North American deer ancestor known as a dromomerycid, according to BBC News. While there are similarities between those creatures and the well-preserved skull fossil analyzed by Dr. Israel Sanchez and his colleagues, the researchers found that they were not related.Instead, Dr. Sanchez explained that the remains belonged to a previously unidentified species of palaeomerycid, which were unusual-looking three-horned ruminants found in several parts of the world during the Miocene Period approximately five to 23 million years ago. Their findings may shed new light on the evolution of horns and other cranial features.

“Establishing the place of palaeomerycids in the ruminant tree gives us insights into the evolutionary history of the large clade of pecoran ruminants that include giraffes (Giraffa and Okapia) as its only extant survivors,” Dr. Sanchez told BBC News, “and shows us the amazing diversity of an ancient lineage that inhabited both Eurasia and Africa.”

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