Scientists unearth skunk that walked among dinosaurs

The fossil of a skunk-like mammal that lived during the age of dinosaurs has been discovered in Chilean Patagonia, adding further proof to recent evidence that mammals roamed that part of South America a lot earlier than previously thought.

A part of the creature’s fossilized jawbone with five teeth attached was discovered close to the famous Torres del Paine national park.

Christened Orretherium tzen, meaning “Beast of Five Teeth” in an amalgam of Greek and a local Indigenous language, the animal is thought to have lived between 72 and 74 million years ago, during the Upper Cretaceous period, at the end of the Mesozoic era, and that it was a herbivore.

A part of the creature’s fossilized jawbone with five teeth attached was discovered close to the famous Torres del Paine national park. (Chilean Antarctic Institute)

Prior to its discovery — and teeth from the Magallanodon baikashkenke, a rodent-like creature, found in the same area last year — only mammals living between 38 and 46 million years ago had been found in the southernmost tip of the Americas, the team that discovered it said.

The finds are critical to completing the evolutionary puzzle of the Gondwanatheria, a group of long-extinct early mammals that co-existed with dinosaurs, said Sergio Soto, a University of Chile paleontologist.

“This and other discoveries that we are going to make known in the future are revealing that there is enormous potential in terms of paleontology in the southern tip of Chile,” said Soto.

“We are finding things that we did not expect to find and that are going to help us answer a lot of questions that we had for a long time about dinosaurs, mammals and other groups.”

The mammal, seen in this artist’s impression, is thought to have lived among the dinosaurs between 72 and 74 million years ago, during the Upper Cretaceous period, at the end of the Mesozoic era. (Mauricio Alvarez)

The discovery was published in the journal Scientific Reports by experts from the University of Chile working with researchers from Argentina’s Natural History and La Plata museums and the Chilean Antarctic Institute.

The scientists think Orretherium tzen cohabited with Magallanodon baikashkenke, which was thought to have been an evolutionary step between a platypus or marsupial, and dinosaurs such as the long-necked titanosaur.

Paleontologists are seen working at the site where the fossil was found, near Torres del Paine national park in Chilean Patagonia. (Felipe Trueba/Chilean Antarctic Institute)

Leave comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *.