Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Mammals’ family tree predates the dinosaurs

Tree-dwelling vertebrate, just identified, lived 260 million years ago

Image: Skeleton of tree-climbing synapsid Suminia getmanov
Diane Scott / discovery.com
The skeleton of the tree-climbing synapsid Suminia getmanov, a 260-million-year-old animal which scientists believe was the first known tree-dweller. The tiny, agile animal predated the arrival of the dinosaurs and was a distant relative of humans and other mammals.

By Jennifer Viegas

The world's first known tree-dwelling vertebrate has just been identified, according to a new study. The tiny, agile animal lived 30 million years before the first dinosaurs and was a distant relative of mammals, including humans.

More than 15 near-complete skeletons of the 260-million-year-old animal, named Suminia getmanovi, reveal that it was built for an arboreal lifestyle.

"As the first tree-climbing vertebrate, Suminia had very long fore and hind limbs, with especially long hands and feet," lead author Jorg Frobisch told Discovery News.

"In particular, its long fingers, or digits, contributed to these large hands and feet," added Frobisch, a Field Museum paleontologist. "It further had long, strongly-curved claws — terminal phalanges — that helped with clinging onto tree trunks and branches."

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