Fossil remains of new species of pangolin discovered in Romania
Fossil remains found at Grăunceanu, a rich fossil deposit in Romania, has led to the discovery of a new species of pangolin, previously thought to have existed in Europe during the early Pleistocene but not confirmed until now, the University of Arkansas announced. Researchers believe it's the youngest and best documented fossil pangolin from Europe and the only fossil from Pleistocene Europe.
"It's not a fancy fossil," said Claire Terhune, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Arkansas. "It's just a single bone, but it is a new species of a kind of a weird animal. We're proud of it because the fossil record for pangolins is extremely sparse. This one happens to be the youngest pangolin ever discovered from Europe and the only pangolin fossil from Pleistocene Europe."
The bone was found at the Grăunceanu paleontological site in Romania's Olteţ River Valley - a rich fossil deposit that Terhune and an international team of researchers studied for over a decade. This site, plus others in the same area, have produced fossils from a wide variety of animal species, including a large terrestrial monkey, short-necked giraffe, rhinos and saber-toothed cats, in addition to the new pangolin species.
Researchers say the new pangolin fossil discovered in Romania is between about 1.9 to 2.2 million years old, placing it within the range of the Pleistocene Epoch, which ran from roughly 2.6 million years ago to about 11,700 years ago.
"The identification of this fossil as a pangolin is significant because previous research suggested that pangolins disappeared from the European paleontological record during the middle-Miocene, closer to 10 million years ago. Previous work hypothesized that pangolins were pushed toward more tropical and sub-tropical equatorial environments due to global cooling trends," reads the press release from the University of Arkansas.
The new pangolin species, called Smutsia olteniensis, revises an earlier understanding of pangolin evolution and bio-geography.
Claire Terhune's collaborators were Sabrina Curran at Ohio University, Timothy Gaudin at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Alexandru Petculescu at Emil Racoviţă Institute of Speleology in Bucharest.
Modern-day pangolins exist in Asia and Africa. With scales from head to tail, they are sometimes mistaken as reptiles, but modern pangolins are actually mammals and are most closely related to carnivores, the University of Arkansas explained. They are also among the most illegally trafficked animals in the world.
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