Fearsome dinosaur-eating mammals (deceased)

“Scientists at the American Museum of Natural History in New York unveiled the fossil of a mammal, found in Northeast China, with a baby dinosaur in its stomach… Most mammals of the Mesozoic era, between 144 and 65 million years ago, were the size of today’s mice and rats. But the latest discovery shows some mammals, the Repenomamus or “reptile mammals,” had a much greater range of body sizes than previously known, suggesting that some large mammals competed with dinosaurs for food and territory.” (Yahoo, Jan 12th.)

The first sign of the doom of the dinosaurs? Not at all. New Scientist has a rather better account:

“The sturdily built mammals lived in China about 130 million years ago, around 65 million years before we thought their kind inherited the Earth. At 1 metre long, R. giganticus was big enough to hunt small dinosaurs, and a newly discovered fossil of its smaller cousin, R. robustus, died with its belly full of young dinosaur.

“While a handful of teeth and other fragmentary remains hinted that a few large mammals may have lived alongside the dinosaurs, little was known about them.

“The Repenomamus species, however, have no living descendants… a poorly understood group of primitive raccoon or opossum-like creatures that diverged from modern mammals during the Mesozoic… faded from the fossil record by the late Cretaceous, and may have died out before the dinosaurs.”

The rats and mice inherited the earth, and diversified into some interesting forms. Monkeys maybe developed their brains to cope with the complexities of living in trees. But also for living in increasingly complex communities. And for finding extra things to do with their increasingly versatile hands. And also naked faces; most monkeys have relatively hairless faces and have a wider range of expressions than you’d see in a cat or an elephant.

As with so many other things, humans are the top of the tree. Not in size or violence, but in the vital skill of communicating.

From Newsnotes, February 2005, at the Long Revolution website.

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