Tetrapod Zoology

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Time to do more astrapotheres. In the preceding article, we more or less introduced astrapotheres, had a quick look at their diversity, and ran through some of the basal forms. Here we get to the good stuff on astrapotheriid astrapotheres, on lifestyles, and on that question that keeps us all awake at night: just what the hell are astrapotheres anyway?

Astrapotheriid astrapotheres – the astrapotheres with particularly big canine tusks, a specialised narial region and other characters – appear to consist of two clades: Astrapotheriinae and Uruguaytheriinae. Besides Astrapotherium, Astrapotheriinae includes the Parastrapotherium species and possibly Astrapothericulus iheringi. These taxa differ from other astrapotheriids in having a particularly big third upper molar. The least known of the three, Astrapothericulus, is from the Middle Miocene Pinturas Formation and is the smallest known Miocene astrapothere, though having said that I haven’t been able to find a size estimate in the literature. Best known from a lower jaw (a cranium is known but has yet to be described so far as I can tell), it differs from Astrapotherium in not only being smaller, but also in having more erect lower canine tusks, and in having a deeper, narrower lower jaw symphysis. While most usually regarded as an astrapotheriine close to Astrapotherium and Parastrapotherium, Johnson & Madden (1997) found it to be sister-taxon to the astrapotheriine-uruguaytheriine clade.

Parastrapotherium is known from the Upper Oligocene and Lower Miocene: it was highly similar to Astrapotherium, but larger, and differed from it in having particularly wide-based incisors and in having a third premolar, which means that what I said in the previous article about premolars being absent in all astrapotheres but some of the most basal taxa is incorrect. Again, while you wouldn’t know it from the semi-technical and popular literature, Parastrapotherium is reasonably well known and excellent three-dimensional material has been described and figured (Scott 1937). Extensive wear on the anterior surfaces of the lower jaw tusks – often manifested as transverse grooves – shows that these astrapotheres used their tusks extensively for something, but what we don’t know. More on tusks in a minute. Three species of Parastrapotherium have been named: P. holmbergi, P. herculeum and P. martiale

The uruguaytheriines

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Rather less well known that the astrapotheriines are the uruguaytheriines, and until the late 1990s the only known taxa were Uruguaytherium and Xenastrapotherium, both named in 1928. The exact age and provenance of the former are controversial; the latter was described from lower jaws discovered in Miocene deposits of Venezuela, but has since been reported from Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil. Three species have been named: X. christi, X. kraglievichi and X. aequatorialis, all of which have longitudinal grooves running the lengths of their canines. These were big animals: X. kraglievichi was about the size of a Black rhino Diceros bicornis. In contrast to astrapotheriines, the lower canine tusks are more horizontally placed in uruguaytheriines and have a long axis which is roughly parallel to the long axis of the entire lower jaw [lower jaw of Granastrapotherium snorki shown in adjacent image, redrawn from Johnson & Madden 1997]. A Brazilian uruguaytheriine, Synastrapotherium amazonense, named in 1976 might be the same thing as Uruguaytherium.

Johnson & Madden (1997) named a particularly interesting uruguaytheriine from Colombia, Granastrapotherium snorki (some material from Peru has also been referred to this genus). The generic name reflects the fact that this was a particularly big species, being 20-30% larger than Astrapotherium magnum. Its tusks can be up to 1 m long and it was estimated by Johnson & Madden (1997) to reach a mass equivalent to that of Hippopotamus: 2.5-3.5 tons. The specific name – meaning ‘snorkeled’ – sounds like it should be a joke but is actually a deliberate reference to the comparatively large proboscis that individuals of this species would have possessed. What’s known of its skull shows that this was a short-faced species, with thicker, more projecting bony sheaths to its upper canine tusks than those of Astrapotherium. Its broad palate was shallow (unlike the more vaulted palate of astrapotheriines) and with near-parallel tooth rows (again, unlike those of astrapotheriines, where the tooth rows converge posteriorly).

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Unlike other astrapotheres, G. snorki completely lacked both lower incisors and a third upper molar, and its massive upper canine tusks have triangular cross-sections at their tips but are oval or rounded at the bases. G. snorki‘s tusks also lacked the grooves present on the tusks of some other uruguaytheriines. However, its long tusks exhibit wear marks along their entire length and this, combined with its broad palate and shortened face, suggested to Johnson & Madden (1997) that it had – for an astrapothere – a particularly long trunk. The wear marks suggest that the tusks were used like those of elephants in helping to strip and break foliage, and given that wear marks extend all the way to the tusk tips, it is inferred that the trunk must have had a reach extending this far at least. In keeping with the large size of this species, its limb bones were broader and more robust than those of better known species like Astrapotherium magnum [adjacent image, borrowed from the UCMP La Venta Fauna Gallery, depicts two (yes, two) of the G. snorki specimens at UCMP. However, the strongly curved and dorsally projecting canine is not right - contrast it with the the drawing above - and there appears to be a canine groove, which there shouldn't be in this species. While two separate lower jaw parts have been combined for this photo, they're still both from G. snorki (I checked the specimen numbers). I assume that the tooth has come out of its socket but am still mightily confused. And I know that sexual dimorphism is present in these animals (I discussed it in the previous article): I didn't think it was this marked in canine shape though].

A short rant about unoriginal artwork

My attempted life restoration at top shows G. snorki next to A. magnum, but they’re clearly not to scale as the G. snorki here is substantially more than 20-30% larger than the A. magnum. I also have no doubt that my G. snorki is essentially a work of fiction (even though I tried not to make it so), because the published figures depict the cranium in palatal view only (!). You can see from my drawing that I looked at tapirs and elephants while doing it. While on the subject of life restorations, astrapotheres provide me with another excuse to discuss pet peeve # 112: the fact that artists have often copied the integumentary details and colour schemes used by other artists when depicting prehistoric animals (for a previous reference to this area see the ver 1 post on phorusrhacids here).

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Dan Varner very kindly supplied the above reconstruction of A. magnum produced by Robert Bruce Horsfall back in the 1930s. You will see that the animals on the left are clearly hairy-skinned, but note that the one on the far right looks naked-skinned (it isn’t naked-skinned, but it looks it if you only take a cursory glance). This ‘naked-skinned’ astrapothere clearly became the template for all the astrapothere depictions that followed, for ever afterwards. Michael Long depicted an identically posed Astrapotherium for Savage’s 1986 Mammal Evolution: An Illustrated Guide, but now with naked, elephant-like skin (see it here), as did Graham Allen for the 1988 Macmillan Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals. And if you google-image Astrapotherium you’ll get to see more of the same. Of course there’s the picture on wikipedia I used previously. So… sigh… informed artists are clearly clever enough not to fall into this trap, but it’s still annoyingly prevalent within palaeontological reconstructions.

Incidentally, Nemo Ramjet wanted to do some astrapotheres for me, but I wouldn’t let him :)

What did astrapotheres do?

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How did astrapotheres live? Many authors have noted that these strange mammals combine a perplexing combination of features: indeed Scott (1937) referred to Parastrapotherium as an animal with the ‘neck of an elephant and the loins of an Indian rhinoceros’ (p. 383). Their feet are elephantine* (but probably longer-toed than those of elephants) while their hands recall those of rhinos, and as we saw previously their columnar (yet relatively slender and proportionally short) limbs appear suited for supporting weight, as does the full fusion of the sacrum to the pelvis (Weston et al. 2004). The intervertebral articulations in the lumbar region are particularly elaborate, which again suggests specialisation for weight-bearing on land. And I haven’t done calculations of any sort, but the hands and feet of astrapotheres look proportionally small to me, and no more spreading in shape than those of fully terrestrial elephants and rhinos [manus of A. magnum shown in adjacent image, from Riggs 1935]. Riggs (1935) concluded that astrapotheres frequented ‘forest or meadowland’ habitats, probably feeding on plants that grew in moist areas like river banks and so on. Most people know that Riggs was supporting the notion of terrestriality in sauropod dinosaurs while many of his contemporaries were interpreting sauropods as aquatic, so it seems his judgment was pretty good on this sort of thing.

* Scott suggested that some astrapotheres might have held the foot in the bizarre ‘pedolateral’ pose known elsewhere for some sloths. However, this is contradicted by a lack of mobility at the ankle.

Alas, it has more often been thought that astrapotheres were aquatic or amphibious. Scott (1937) suggested an amphibious mode of life because he noted how short and poorly developed the neural spines are (Wall & Heinbaugh 1999 also drew attention to this), and he also pointed to the relatively small transverse processes on the dorsal vertebrae. Weston et al. (2004) noted that the long astrapothere body looked odd, and they also drew attention to the fact that the common discovery of astrapothere remains within stream channels might lend taphonomic support to an amphibious mode of life. They didn’t support the idea of an aquatic or amphibious mode of life however, and left the question of astrapothere lifestyle unresolved.

The small neural spines of astrapotheres are indeed odd, especially in view of the fact that we would expect that strong support via nuchal ligaments would be needed for the reasonably big head. Incidentally, similarly small neural spines are also seen in the similarly enigmatic South American pyrotheres. However, everything about astrapothere necks is really odd: their opisthocoelous, anteroposteriorly shortened cervical vertebrae are incredibly, and disproportionately, broad. I can’t do anything other than wave my arms around at this point, but I can’t help thinking that astrapotheres were doing something unusual in terms of how they were supporting the head and using the neck, and that this may explain why they did away with tall neural spines.

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And if the small size of the neural spines is, essentially, the only thing that supports the amphibious hypothesis, then count me out. I see no good reason to think that these animals were any more aquatic than rhinos or mastodonts and, as noted above, a skeleton well suited for weight bearing on land perhaps contradicts the idea of aquatic habits. The extensive wear seen on astrapothere tusks – recall in particular the transverse grooves present in Parastrapotherium – indicates that they were using those tusks to do such things as break bark, root in soil, and tear at branches. You can spend your time in the water and still do all of those things (indeed, you can be amphibious and still feed entirely on land – look at hippos), but they are also consistent with terrestrial life. Of course, the superficial similarity that astrapotheres have with tapirs [Tapirus terrestris shown in adjacent image, from here] has led people to assume that the two lived in similar ways. Maybe they did. Ultimately we need more work on this subject. As others have noted before me, there has – historically – been a general rush to assume amphibious habits in big prehistoric animals, often for really poor reasons.

And… what are astrapotheres?

South America’s endemic placentals have always been of mysterious phylogenetic affinities, and the situation today isn’t much better. If you know anything about mammal phylogeny, you’ll be aware that our views on the deep structure of the placental mammal tree have really been shaken up in recent years, mostly thanks to a slew of new molecular studies. The bad news is that we’re still very much in the dark on astrapotheres and the other weird South American placentals, so I regret that there really isn’t much to say on this subject. Ideally, it would be ‘nice’ if astrapotheres and the other South American placentals were found to be part of Atlantogenata – the placental clade that includes Xenarthra and Afrotheria. Some people are intimating that this is indeed the case, although note that astrapotheres are not currently thought to share a common ancestor with litopterns and notoungulates (Muizon & Cifelli 2000, Horovitz 2004).

Cifelli (1983) noted that the highly distinctive ankle morphology of astrapotheres is similar in some respects to that of dinoceratans, but this is probably due to convergence and hasn’t been supported by other data. The late Miguel Soria (1988) published an article that I haven’t yet seen but which looks essential, titled ‘Estudios sobre los Astrapotheria (Mammalia) del Paleoceno y Eoceno. Parte II: filogenia, origen y relaciones’ (nor have I seen part I). Finally, Horovitz (2004) suggested that astrapotheres were close relatives of the periptychids, a mostly North American, mostly Palaeocene group conventionally regarded as ‘condylarths’ close to groups like the hyopsodontids and phenacodontids (e.g., Archibald 1998). Some work now indicates that hyopsodontids and phenacodontids are atlantogenatans and, furthermore, part of Afrotheria (Asher et al. 2003, Zack et al. 2005). If astrapotheres are allied to periptychids, if periptychids are allied to hyopsodontids and phenacodontids, and if hyopsodontids and phenacodontids really are afrotherian atlantogenatans… does this mean we have an end to the mystery? Well, other studies find hyopsodontids and phenacodontids to be part of Laurasiatheria (Wible et al. 2007), the other great assemblage of placental mammals. I think you get the picture, I’ll stop there.

We’ll be coming back to weird South American placental mammals in the very near future, but for now it’s time to move on. I hope you enjoyed the ride. To the sunset, brave Snorki!

Refs – -

Archibald, J. D. 1998. Archaic ungulates (“Condylarthra”). In Janis, C. M., Scott, K. M. & Jacobs, L. L. (eds) Evolution of Tertiary Mammals of North America. Volume 1: Terrestrial Carnivores, Ungulates, and Ungulatelike Mammals. Cambridge University Press, pp. 292-331.

Asher, R. J., Novacek, M. J. & Geisler, J. H. 2003. Relationships of endemic African mammals and their fossil relatives based on morphological and molecular evidence. Journal of Mammalian Evolution 10, 131-194.

Cifelli, R. L. 1983. Eutherian tarsals from the Late Paleocene of Brazil. American Museum Novitates 2761, 1-31.

Horovitz, I. 2004. Eutherian mammal systematics and the origins of South American ungulates as based on postcranial osteology. Bulletin of Carnegie Museum of Natural History 36, 63-79.

Johnson, S. C. & Madden, R. H. 1997. Uruguaytheriine astrapotheres of tropical South America. In Kay, R. F., Madden, R. H., Cifelli, R. L. & Flynn, J. J. (eds) Vertebrate Paleontology in the Neotropics: The Miocene fauna of La Venta, Colombia. Smithsonian Institution Press (Washington, D.C.), pp. 355-381.

Muizon, C. de & Cifelli, R. L. 2000. The ‘condylarths’ (archaic Ungulata, Mammalia) from the early Palaeocene of Tiupampa (Bolivia): implications on the origin of the South American ungulates. Geodiversitas 22, 47-150.

Riggs, E. S. 1935. A skeleton of Astrapotherium. Geological Series of Field Museum of Natural History 6, 167-177.

Scott, W. B. 1937. The Astrapotheria. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 77, 309-393.

Soria, M. F. 1988. Estudios sobre los Astrapotheria (Mammalia) del Paleoceno y Eoceno. Parte II: filogenia, origen y relaciones. Ameghiniana 25, 47-59.

Wall, W. P. & Heinbaugh, K. L. 1999. Locomotor adaptations in Metamynodon planifrons compared to other amynodontids (Perissodactyla, Rhinocerotoidea). In Santucci, V. L. & McClelland, L. (eds) National Park Service Paleontological Research, Technical Report NPS/NRGRD/GRDTR-99/03, pp. 8-17.

Weston, E. M., Madden, R. H. & Sánchez-Villagra, M. R. 2004. Early Miocene astrapotheres (Mammalia) from northern South America. Special Papers in Palaeontology 71, 81-97.

Wible, J. R., Rougier, G. W., Novacek, M. J. & Asher, R. J. 2007. Cretaceous eutherians and Laurasian origin for placental mammals nears the K/T boundary. Nature 447, 1003-1006.

Zack, S. P., Penkrot, T. A., Bloch, J. I. & Rose, K. D. 2005. Affinities of ‘hyopsodontids’ to elephant shrews and a Holarctic origin of Afrotheria. Nature 434, 497-501.

Comments

  1. #1 Jerzy
    February 8, 2008

    Cool creatures! Tusks drawn this way protrude exactly like tusks of bull hippopotamus. So they might be used during fights, by threatening and stabbing with open mouths.

  2. #2 J. S. Lopes
    February 8, 2008

    If Astrapotheres were Afrotherians, we need a good explanation for their presence in South America…

    Maybe Periptychids and Astrapotheres were closer to Xenarthrans… or … something older than the Xenarthra, Afrotheria, Boreoeutheria (Laurasiatheria+Euarchontoglires) clades.

    If the newly discobered Kharmerungulatum from Cretaceous of India was actualy a “condylarthran”, maybe there was a very old clade of “protungulates” in Southern Continents. Remember the dubious Tingamarra from Australia.

  3. #3 Darren Naish
    February 8, 2008

    If apheliscines, other ‘hyopsodontids’, phenacodontids and so on are afrotherians (and, as noted, they may not be), this clade (yes, even the crown of Afrotheria) was far more widespread than implied by the name and in fact originally occured in North America, Europe and Asia. This was exactly the point of Zack et al.’s 2005 paper (ref above), and was also addressed by Asher et al. (2003). But, yes, if astrapotheres are close to Palaeocene periptychids, we’d have to propose a model for the arrival of Laurasiatherian stem-astrapotheres in South America.

  4. #4 johannes
    February 8, 2008

    > we’d have to propose a model for the arrival of Laurasiatherian
    > stem-astrapotheres in South America.

    The same holds true for pyrotheres if – a rather large if – they were really related to dinoceratans. AFAIK, dinoceratans are either eurarchontoglirans (if they are descended from anagalids), laurasiatheres (if they nest with pantodonts and tillodonts among the ferae), glorified cimolestans, or zhelestids (in the latter two cases they would be no placentals at all) – all those clades are thought to be of Laurasian origin.

  5. #5 Darren Naish
    February 8, 2008

    Stupid me, I meant ‘Laurasian stem-astrapotheres’!

  6. #6 J. S. Lopes
    February 8, 2008

    If Afrotherian has a non-African origin, a good place for their origins was Cretaceous Eastern North America-Europe block, with plausible links to Africa (cf. Abelisaurids, Zhelestids, Madtsoiids, etc).
    Maybe, when North America was divided into East and West by Niobrara Sea, Afrotheria-stem evolved in East, and Xenarthra or Boreoeutheria in West.
    Scenario 1: South American placentals must have North American origin, so astrapotheres’ origins should be tracked from some Northern ancestor in Campanian… A Late Cretaceous migration between North and South Americas occurred (marsupials, placentals, hadrosaurs, at least), but… from what part of North America? West or East? Or both. A connexion with Western N America (Mexico-Central America-Colombia) would favour Laurasiatherian elements in South; an Eastern connexion (Florida-Proto-Antillas-Venezuela) would favour Afrotherian elements.

    Scenario 2: Southern ungulates were older and not related to Northern faunas; a primitive bunch of ungulates in Gondwana (South America-Madagascar-Antarctica-India-Australia and maybe Africa) could has an origin in Early Cretaceous Europe maybe… From Europe to Africa, then to S America…
    Other possibility is that the first migration wave in Campanian from N America, reached all Gondwanan blocks…

  7. #7 J. S. Lopes
    February 8, 2008

    In Tiupampa, the animal identified as a Cimolestid could gave rise to some of the South American ungulates… and maybe… bats! Fossil bats were found in South America (Laguna Fria), Antarctica and Australia (Australonycteris), all Eocene and Southernmost continents… India maybe carried away their proto-bats from South, allowing them to reach Africa and Eurasia later.

  8. #8 Lars Dietz
    February 8, 2008

    I looked astrapotheres up in the mammalian evolution volume of Kuekenthal’s Handbuch der Zoologie (written by Erich Thenius) and he cites a paper by G. L. Sera, who suggested that astrapotheres were hanging climbers like recent sloths! As some dead guy said: “There is nothing so absurd that some philosopher has not said it.”
    The reference appears to be (I haven’t seen the paper):
    Sera, Gioacchino Leone. 1954. I modi di vita degli Astrapotheria. [in English summary]. Riv. Ital. Pal. 60 13-20, 1 fig.

    Possibly all of the “meridiungulates” were of northern origin. At least the kollpaniine-didolodontid-litoptern clade was related to North American mioclaenids, and it possibly includes notoungulates and maybe even pyrotheres, whose inner ear is much like that of notoungulates. Astrapotheres and xenungulates don’t seem to fit there, but could have been related to each other.
    And there was also an Early Paleocene pantodont (Alcidedorbignya) in South America. So there are still a lot of things we simply don’t know. As usual, your post was an excellent summary of what is known.

  9. #9 Hai~Ren
    February 8, 2008

    The lower tusks of Granastrapotherium remind me a lot of those possessed by the shovel-tuskers (Amebelodon, Platybelodon).

  10. #10 Darren Naish
    February 8, 2008

    Awesome comments, thanks everyone. Am pretty shocked to hear of the 1954 paper – must get that! Re: similarity with shovel-tuskers, I’ve thought of this too, and interestingly these are yet another group long stereotyped as marsh-dwellers, whereas in fact the evidence best indicates that they were savannah/woodland animals. And, before anyone says it, yes I will cover them here one day…

  11. #11 Mike Keesey
    February 8, 2008

    Great posts — I’d never really thought about these animals much before.

    Stupid me, I meant ‘Laurasian stem-astrapotheres’!

    Since astrapotheres are extinct, there can’t be an astrapothere stem group. All astrapotheres are stem-X, but what that “X” is is unknown.

    Where are placentals supposed to have originated? Any chance that astrapotheres are stem-placentals?

  12. #12 neil
    February 8, 2008

    Stable isotopes might be a good way to try and get at habitat and dietary preferences. Anyone wanna loan me an astrapothere tusk? You’ll get most of it back, honest!

  13. #13 Matt Wedel
    February 8, 2008

    Incidentally, Nemo Ramjet wanted to do some astrapotheres for me, but I wouldn’t let him :)

    On the contrary: :-( You want me to come over there and kick your butt?

    Nemo, if you still care to make them, I’d be honored to post your astropothere restorations–or pretty much anything else you produce–at Ask Dr. Vector. I know that going from Tet Zoo to ADV is kinda like aiming for the London stage and ending up making ‘home movies’ in a basement in Burbank. But still, my humble offer stands.

    OTHERWISE excellent post, Darren.

  14. #14 Zach Miller
    February 8, 2008

    Great post, brother. Your inspiring illustration inspired me to give astrapotheres my own crack. Expect a rival illustration on my own blog in the coming days! They’re like some kind of pig-elephant beast!

  15. #15 J. S. Lopes
    February 8, 2008

    Bolivian Pantodont Alcidedorbinya is another fascinating mystery. Oldest Pantodonts in North American were from Torrejonian; with oldest genera from Asia. This Bolivian genus was coeval of the Asian genera.
    We should expect that South American Pantodonts came from older North American ancestors, but… where are them?
    A pivotal place for undestanding the paleozoogeography of pantodonts was Europe. European Early and Middle Paleocene faunas was almost unknown…maybe some surprises are hidden there. If Torrejonian Pantodonts didn’t come from Asia, I suspect they could come from Europe. Maybe the connection would be Europe-Africa-India-Antarctica-S America, since “cimolestans” (Deccanolestes) and “condylarthrs (Kharmerungulatum) show a possible similar pattern.

  16. #16 Cameron
    February 8, 2008

    When I first read the title and saw the picture, I thought you had some sort of astrapothere-themed line of children’s books coming out…

  17. #17 David Marjanovi?
    February 8, 2008

    Fossil bats were found in South America (Laguna Fria), Antarctica and Australia (Australonycteris), all Eocene and Southernmost continents… India maybe carried away their proto-bats from South, allowing them to reach Africa and Eurasia later.

    What do you mean, “later”? In North America and Europe, too, the first bats appear at the beginning of the Eocene, and in North America there’s that five-clawed bat announced at the SVP meeting that is of Pal-Eocene boundary age or something…

    Plus, the phylogenetic position of the bats is known: Pegasoferae.

    On the other hand, not every tooth that looks like a cimolestid’s is a cimolestid’s…

  18. #18 David Marjanovi?
    February 8, 2008

    Kharmerungulatum is rather forgettable. It could be anything eutherian (at least). No phylogenetic analysis was done; the greatest similarities are with Protungulatum, which, according to Wible et al. (2007), is surprisingly not a placental…

    Where are placentals supposed to have originated?

    Up north (Wible et al. 2007).

    Any chance that astrapotheres are stem-placentals?

    Sure. At present there’s just no way to tell. The closest thing to a serious morphological analysis of placental phylogeny is Wible et al. (2007)… All that can be done is to complete this analysis by putting oodles of Paleogene fossils in and ordering those multistate characters that need to be ordered.

  19. #19 J. S. Lopes
    February 8, 2008

    Eocene bats in South America, Antartica and Australia needed a n older ancestor. Bats suddenly appear in Holarctic Early Eocene (like perissos, artios, primates, hyenodonts, dormaalids), I think if they had North American ancestors these would have already been found…

    [from Darren: sorry for the delay on the appearance of your comments - for some reason they get held up by the publishing platform.]

  20. #20 David Marjanovi?
    February 9, 2008

    Eocene bats in South America, Antar[c]tica and Australia needed a n older ancestor.

    Why? They can fly.

    (like perissos, artios, primates, hyenodonts, dormaalids)

    Perisso- and artiodactyls reach into the Paleocene in Asia and have Paleocene relatives in the northern continents. Plesiadapiforms are common in the Paleocene. Hyaenodonts IIRC reach into the Paleocene in Asia and Africa.

    I think if they had North American ancestors these would have already been found…

    As I said: just such an animal is in press right now. Plus, the closest surviving relatives of the bats are the artiodactyls, perissodactyls, pangolins and carnivores — Carnivoromorpha (“Miacis“) reaches into the early Paleocene in North America.

  21. #21 Mike from Ottawa
    February 9, 2008

    Darren: Not that I don’t appreciate the astrapotheres, but I ran across your pic of Helveticosaurus on your flikr site today (via SVPOW!). Any chance we’ll get something on it one day? Even if it isn’t actually as weird as your pic makes out.

  22. #22 J. S. Lopes
    February 9, 2008

    Good news! I’d like to know more about this Paleocene “proto-bat”.

  23. #23 Pavel I. Volkov
    February 10, 2008

    Thank you, Darren!
    I think “crushing” articles about transitional forms and any features of animals “problematic” for creationists may be very useful. Early bats, proto-wlales and neck of giraffe are those. By the way, can you tell about the whale Dalanistes? And about XXXXXXXXXXXX? and XXXXXXXXXXXX? and… and…
    Oooops! It is only my wish, but I may only ask you.
    Creationism is a danger, and I think science must struggle against it. Can you tell about the evolution of giraffes and their neck anatomy?

  24. #24 Darren Naish
    February 10, 2008

    I promise that I will be covering long-necked giraffes in the near future – and, of course, it’s impossible to discuss this subject without alluding to the idiocy of ‘creation science’ arguments. However, I’m afraid you’re still going to have to wait a while. Then again, I’m working on giraffes (for another reason) right now, so this would be a good time to deal with it…

  25. #25 David Marjanovi?
    February 10, 2008

    I’d like to know more about this Paleocene “proto-bat”.

    I don’t know more because I wasn’t at the SVP meeting. We’ll have to wait for the paper.

  26. #26 Nemo Ramjet
    February 10, 2008

    Dr. Vector, I’d be delighted to try out some astrapothere reconstructions for you, if I can get the images of the skulls from Mr. Naish.

  27. #27 Pavel I. Volkov
    February 11, 2008

    Darren, I’m ready to wait, because this article may be wery helpful in struggle against creationist claims. I think it is dangerous to underestimate this pseudo-science.

  28. #28 J. S. Lopes
    February 13, 2008

    Onychonycteris finneyi – that’s the name of the Old Bat from Early Eocene
    http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-02/uom-mls020808.php

  29. #29 David Marjanovi?
    February 13, 2008

    Yes, it’s not Paleocene, it’s from the early Eocene Green River Formation. It’s published in the latest Nature. The supplementary-information file, which is free-access, has 1.8 MB…

  30. #30 Jorge W. Moreno-Bernal
    February 26, 2008

    In my blog “El Pantano del Purussaurus” (The Purussaurus swamp), recently opened, there is a short review on astrapotheres, in spanish (soon in other languages). Some of you readers would like to see it.

  31. #31 Darren Naish
    February 27, 2008

    Nice work Jorge! Good to see more on the web about astrapotheres – I urge all readers to have a look.

  32. #32 jennifer
    January 27, 2009

    Can anyone help us learn more about the Dalanistes? Or the Rodhocetus? We need Time period they existed, habitat, life functions-what they ate, and physical traits. My daughter needs info. for school and we are having so much trouble identifying these two creatures. thank you so much.

  33. #33 Raymond Minton
    January 27, 2009

    I wish I’d seen this post the first time it came out. I’ve read very little about astrapotheres, other than they were roughly convergent with proboscideans. And I don’t think Horsfall’s depiction of A. magnum rings true either, it looks too puny! A herbivore this size should be massive and barrel-bellied. Oh well, just my opinion. Thanks for the information on a little-known group of extinct mammals.

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