The Jurassic Squirrel – Megaconus mammaliaformis

The picture you conjure up when you hear Middle Jurassic, is one dominated by Dinosaurs, particularly the Tyrannosaurus rex. This is a considerable misconception, since the “Tyrant Lizard King” lived at the end of the Cretaceous about 100 million years later than the Middle Jurassic.

Yes, Dinosaurs dominated the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods, but these were not the only organisms around throughout these periods.

- Advertisement -

While our friends were a dominant feature on the landscape, our own early progenitors were etching out a living too. One of these creatures was Megaconus mammaliaformis. The best way to describe it is to compare it to a Rock Hyrax (Procavia capensis), a cute furry creature that walked like a Hyrax or an armadillo. It would have weighted about 250g and would have had an omnivorous diet. The fur would have been absent on its underbelly, with a generous covering over the rest of its body.

All this information from one newly discovered fossil skeleton from Dauhugou, Inner Mongolia, northern China. Megaconus is closely related to a family of early mammals called Eleutherodontids, which includes the geni of Eleutherodon and Sineleutherus. All three geni make up the Haramiyidan family. Megaconus shares more features with the Triassic cynodonts than to the later Multituberculates.

Yanoconodon illini: Early Cretaceous Mammal, about 100 million years later than M. Mammaliaformis – Wiki Commons

The latter represent the longest lasting group of mammals in mammalian history, post-dating the Haramiyidans. Yanoconodon illini: Early Cretaceous Mammal, about 100 million years later than M.

- Advertisement -

Understanding the features of skeletal anatomy and the ability to compare one fossil species to another is crucial to understanding who is related to who. The teeth are a gold mine of information. The fused root of Megaconus and their hypsodonty (High-crowned teeth), are features also found in the Eleutherodontids, but the tooth crown flutings are a feature unique to Megaconus within the Haramiyidans.

Most of the time, palaeontologists argue over the most meagre of evidence such as isolated teeth, but M. Mammaliaformis is eye-wateringly well preserved. The format of the foot bones lacks the derived characteristics of the bone in the feet of the later Multituberculates.

In addition, M. Mammaliaformis had its middle ear bones embedded within the back of its jaw in the postdentary trough, while the Multituberculates lacked such a feature. M. Mammaliaformis therefore lived prior to the Multituberculates, but well after the Triassic cynodonts. The fossil itself provides the earliest evidence for the existence of furry mammals, dating to between 165 and 164 million years ago.

Header Image : The Rock Hyrax (Procavia capensis) : Wiki Commons

Written by Charles T.C. Clarke.

HeritageDaily : Palaeontology News : Palaeotology Press Releases


- Advertisement -
Charles t. g. Clarke
Charles t. g. Clarke
Charles hails from Longford in the midlands of Ireland. From an early age, he developed an interest in general knowledge which morphed into Archaeology. He graduated with a B.Sc. In Applied Archaeology at the Institute of Technology Sligo, in 2011. His dissertation involved a class of Neolithic monument called an earthen embanked enclosure - the Irish equivalent of a henge. One module - World Archaeology - would determine his future however. After being introduced to Australopithecines, he was hooked ever since. In 2012, he graduated with an M.Sc. In Palaeoanthropology and Palaeolithic Archaeology at the UCL Institute of Archaeology and Department of Anthropology. His masters dissertation focused upon specie-level signatures of mandibular 2nd molars around 2 million years of age. Now out of academia, he hopes to return and pursue a PhD. He maintains the Cennathis Youtube Channel, Blog, Podcast, Twitter and Facebook pages. He currently lives in the city of London, UK.

Mobile Application


Related Articles

Archaeologists find missing head of Deva from the Victory Gate of Angkor Thom

Archaeologists from Cambodia’s national heritage authority (APSARA) have discovered the long-lost missing head of a Deva statue from the Victory Gate of Angkor Thom.

Archaeologists search crash site of WWII B-17 for lost pilot

Archaeologists from Cotswold Archaeology are excavating the crash site of a WWII B-17 Flying Fortress in an English woodland.

Roman Era tomb found guarded by carved bull heads

Archaeologists excavating at the ancient Tharsa necropolis have uncovered a Roman Era tomb guarded by two carved bull heads.

Revolutionary war barracks discovered at Colonial Williamsburg

Archaeologists excavating at Colonial Williamsburg have discovered a barracks for soldiers of the Continental Army during the American War of Independence.

Pleistocene hunter-gatherers settled in Cyprus thousands of years earlier than previously thought

Archaeologists have found that Pleistocene hunter-gatherers settled in Cyprus thousands of years earlier than previously thought.

Groundbreaking study reveals new insights into chosen locations of pyramids’ sites

A groundbreaking study, published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment, has revealed why the largest concentration of pyramids in Egypt were built along a narrow desert strip.

Soldiers’ graffiti depicting hangings found on door at Dover Castle

Conservation of a Georgian door at Dover Castle has revealed etchings depicting hangings and graffiti from time of French Revolution.

Archaeologists find Roman villa with ornate indoor plunge pool

Archaeologists from the National Institute of Cultural Heritage have uncovered a Roman villa with an indoor plunge pool during excavations at the port city of Durrës, Albania.