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Agile 'super rat' that could climb and burrow roamed Earth 160 million years ago

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 19th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The ferocious looking rugosodon eurasiaticus was a prehistoric version of the modern rat. The fearsome thing could climb trees, burrow and eat just about anything. A fossil has been recently unearthed in China.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - According to the journal, Science, the rat had flexible ankles for tree-climbing and sharp teeth that could gnaw both animals and plants. These adaptations helped the ancient rat-like rodents known as multituberculates become among the longest lived mammals in history.

According to as study led by Chong-Xi Yuan from the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences in Beijing, the species is believed to have originated 160 million years ago during the Jurassic Period. The rodents lived for some 100 million years in the age of the dinosaurs before modern rodents overcame them.

Researchers from China and the United States claim that these "super rats" abilities led to their evolution and diversification into a range of tree-dwelling and plant-eating mammals that followed.
 
"Some could jump, some could burrow, others could climb trees and many more lived on the ground," co-author Zhe-Xi Luo of the University of Chicago says.

"The tree-climbing multituberculates and the jumping multituberculates had the most interesting ankle bones, capable of 'hyper-back-rotation' of the hind feet."

The latest fossil was found in the Jurassic Tiaojishan Formation in eastern China.

The creature's name derives from the Latin "rugosus" for wrinkles and "odon" for tooth, due to its bumpy molar surface and "eurasiaticus" for its widespread territory.

The fossil is similar to those found in Portugal, Luo adds, suggesting that it and its relatives were widely found across the entire Eurasian continent.

The creature was believed to have a body mass of about 65 to 80 grams. Researchers said the tooth and ankle adaptations likely evolved very early in the creatures' existence, helping them to become so long-lived as a group.

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