Chuang Zhao and Lida Xing"I'm not a squirrel, dammit!!!"
In your face, Archaeopteryx!
Scientists have discovered an extinct animal the size of a small squirrel that lived in China at least 125 million years ago and soared among the trees. It is the earliest known example of gliding flight by mammals, and the scientists say it shows that mammals experimented with aerial life about the same time birds first took to the skies, perhaps even earlier.Stoopit birds, think they're so smart with their fancy "feathers," and "beaks," and "powered flight." This'll sort their bacon.
From an analysis of the fossil, the researchers concluded that this gliding mammal was unrelated to the modern flying squirrel and unlike any other animal in the Mesozoic, the period best known for dinosaurs living in the company of small and unprepossessing mammals. They announced today that the species qualified as a member of an entirely new order of mammals.
Until a couple of years ago, Dr. Cifelli said, most scientists held the view that such early mammals were simple shrew-like creatures that cowered in the shadows of the dominant dinosaurs, and now “this adds a new dimension to our knowledge of early mammals.”
Until now, the earliest identified gliding mammal was a 30-million-year-old extinct rodent. The first known modern bat, which is capable of powered flight, dates to 51 million years ago, but it is assumed that proto-bats were probably gliding much earlier.
Archaeopteryx, the earliest known bird, lived about 145 million years ago, though scientists are not sure if it could flap its feathered wings in fully powered flight. But it lived about the time birds did take off in flight.
Dr. Meng’s team said tests produced inconsistent dates for the new specimen, ranging from as recent as 125 million years ago to as ancient as 164 million. The older date may be more probable, other scientists said, and would put the aerial life of the mammal even earlier than known bird flight. [Ha! Mammals RULE!!!]
In their study of the fossil, Dr. Meng and his associates noted that the mammal was about half the length of the squirrels frolicking in Central Park, across from the museum. [So... it's more like a flying gerbil?] The animal had a long, stiff tail that served as a stabilizing rudder for gliding flight. The impressions of fur on the gliding membrane, or patagium, and other parts of its body preserve some of the most ancient examples of mammalian skin covering.
(I could have sworn that the first flying mammal was the rare and exotic "kitty hawk", but I've been known to be wrong before.)