Cartoon-like mammal survived the mass extinction of the dinosaurs to flourish in the new world conditions.
A recently discovered fossil of a small, almost cartoon-looking mammal in the badlands of New Mexico has turned out to be a new genus, one that was around during the time of dinosaurs and survived the mass extinction when the large reptiles could not.
A paper published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society and cited on the washingtonpost.com, says scientists have named the animal Kimbetopsalis simmonsae, and the researchers have described it as a beaver-like animal.
Sixty-six million years ago, a massive asteroid struck the Earth somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico, unleashing a blast of energy that researchers estimate would have measured an 11 on the Richter Scale. The impact triggered worldwide devastation, volcanic activity, and released toxic gasses that likely covered most of the planet.
Dinosaurs were the dominant species on the planet at the time of the impact and had enjoyed a reign of about 100 million years. By the time the world began to recover from the catastrophe, the giants had all died, leaving only small animals and sparse vegetation to remain.
Although Kimbetopsalis was living before the apocalypse, and faced the same conditions as the dinosaurs, the rodent-like mammal was able to endure and out-lived the former masters of the planet.
The Kimbetopsalis is described as being about three feet in length, furry and buck-toothed, and was probably not a very intimidating specimen, likely scurrying around in rodent fashion instead of tromping about like royalty.
But it was probably one of the largest animals left after the asteroid impact and could be considered the new king of the world.
With the predators wiped out, mammals flourished in the new world. And none of them took more advantage of the situation than did the Kimbetopsalis. The species grew from very small proportions to a size comparable with a very large beaver in about 500,000 years, practically unheard of in evolutionary records.
Researchers say the proliferation and adaptation of the Kimbetopsalis is a testament to the power and persistence of early mammals. While the rodent was the largest animal at the time, it was by no means the only mammal to thrive without the dinosaurs.
The ensuing Palaeogene period brought about the rise of many types of mammals, including hoofed animals, marsupials and early primates, which thrived and evolved rapidly in the absence of their former competitors.