A Fossil Fox With A Difference

Related Articles

Related Articles

The palaeoanthropological community got excited with the discovery of new hominin fossils at the site of Malapa, in South Africa, over two years ago.

The excited was linked to the possibilities of what the two individuals could reveal about the origins of humanity. The refreshing aspect here is the scientific team’s endeavour to publish papers on the other fossil remains that found their way into the Malapa cave system 1.977 million years ago.

Fox Evolution
Fox Evolution


The latest paper to be published about the remains of Malapa draws our attention to a little known remains of fox fossils. The three specimens were compared to both fossil and extant remains of fox. The Malapa fox is sufficiently different from the comparative sample to warrant a new species for the Malapa fox – Vulpes skinneri.

Though debatable, the earliest fox is thought to be Metalopex macconnelli a Californian fox dating to about 10.5 Ma. How the fox dispersed into Africa from there, is a major focus of palaeontological debate. Vulpes riffautae is the earliest representative of foxes in Africa about 8 Ma.

One would imagine Europe being the missing link in the chain from the Americas and Africa. From then on fossil fox remains have been uncovered in the eastern and southern regions of the African continent. By the Pleistocene Nyctereutes terblanche was roaming the now famous “Cradle of Humankind” in South Africa. The Scottish palaeontologist Robert Broom referred to this species as a jackal, but it is now generally considered a Racoon Dog.

The fox found in the Malapa sediments is represented by three pieces of bone or specimens coded as follows:

U.W. 88-812: Jaw Fragment

U.W. 88-814: Second Wisdom Tooth

U.W. 88-183: Rib

These remains were attributed to Vulpes cf. V. chama when they were first described in another paper in 2010. Time passes and research continues to a point where the palaeontological team now believe there is considerable shape differences in the bones and teeth to suggest a new species. The Malapa fox remains were compared to a wide variety of museum collections throughout the world, including the natural history museums of New York, South Africa and Stockholm.

The species compared included V. pattisoni and V. chama, with the Malapa fox showing more similarities with the extant (living) foxes of South Africa. Most species of organism on the planet has a holotype, which is a specimen that other skeletal remains can be compared to. It basically acts as a standard for a species. The team of scientists realised that the holotype of V. pattisoni is likely to be a juvenile as evidence from the crowded cheek teeth.

The Malapa fox exhibited differences in dental morphology to those of the above mentioned two fossil species and so the team of palaeontologists considered it appropriate to propose a new species – V. skinneri.

Professor John D. Skinner was director of the University of Pretoria Mammal Research Institute and so his name was appropriate from the Malapa Fox.

To learn more about this paper please check out the link below:

A new species of fox from the Australopithecus sediba type locality, Malapa, South Africa

Written by Charles t. g. Clarke

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic


Academics Develop New Method to Determine the Origin of Stardust in Meteorites

Meteorites are critical to understanding the beginning of our solar system and how it has evolved over time.

Primate Voice Boxes are Evolving at a Rapid Pace

Scientists have discovered that the larynx, or voice box, of primates is significantly larger relative to body size, has greater variation, and is under faster rates of evolution than in other mammals.

New Discoveries at Hitler’s Wolf’s Lair

Researchers at the Wolf’s Lair, Hitler’s military headquarters located in the Masurian woods, Poland have made several new discoveries.

Medieval Sword Found at Bottom of Oder River

An almost complete medieval sword has been recovered from the Oder River in Poland.

Inside the Ice Giants of Space

A new theoretical method paves the way to modelling the interior of the ice giants Uranus and Neptune, thanks to computer simulations on the water contained within them.

Innovative Method Opens up New Perspectives for Reconstructing Climatic Conditions of Past Eras

Corals precipitate their calcareous skeletons (calcium carbonate) from seawater. Over thousands of years, vast coral reefs form due to the deposition of this calcium carbonate.

New Study Supports Predictions That the Arctic Could be Free of Sea Ice by 2035

A new study, published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change, supports predictions that the Arctic could be free of sea ice by 2035.

Rare ‘Boomerang’ Earthquake Observed Along Atlantic Ocean Fault Line

Scientists have tracked a 'boomerang' earthquake in the ocean for the first time, providing clues about how they could cause devastation on land.

Popular stories

Port Royal – The Sodom of the New World

Port Royal, originally named Cagway was an English harbour town and base of operations for buccaneers and privateers (pirates) until the great earthquake of 1692.

Matthew Hopkins – The Real Witch-Hunter

Matthew Hopkins was an infamous witch-hunter during the 17th century, who published “The Discovery of Witches” in 1647, and whose witch-hunting methods were applied during the notorious Salem Witch Trials in colonial Massachusetts.

Did Corn Fuel Cahokia’s Rise?

A new study suggests that corn was the staple subsistence crop that allowed the pre-Columbian city of Cahokia to rise to prominence and flourish for nearly 300 years.

The Real Dracula?

“Dracula”, published in 1897 by the Irish Author Bram Stoker, introduced audiences to the infamous Count and his dark world of sired vampiric minions.