Saturday, March 10, 2012

Tiny rainforest camels

A lot can change in 20 million years, huh? These things just fascinate me.
From the new fossils, Rincon and his team described two new prehistoric camel species: Aguascalietia panamaensis and Aguascalientia minuta, both of which roamed the Central American tropics about 20 million years ago.

Both animals had long, crocodile-like snouts, likely specialized for finding fruits and leaves in dense vegetation, he told National Geographic News. Also, their teeth were short and sharp, features common to animals that browse, not graze, for food, Rincon noted.

Based on the fossils, Rincon and colleagues estimate the tiniest of the two camels, A. minuta, stood about 2 feet (60 centimeters) tall, about the size of a modern-day musk deer. A. panamaensis was about 2.5 feet (80 centimeters) tall.

Of course, these aren't the ancestors of modern camels, but they're closely related. And we still have a branch of that family in the Americas.
Though modern-day camels are for the most part found only in African and Middle Eastern deserts, the mammals were abundant in the Americas about 35 to 40 million years ago.

Camels later branched in two lineages—one that went to South America, where the animals evolved into llamas and their relatives, and one to Asia. The Asian lineage evolved into the big camels we know today, study leader Rincon said.

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