BEACON TRANSCRIPT – Scientists were able to break the riddle which puzzled Charles Darwin. An ancient animal died over 12,000 ago, leaving no descendant behind, and its origin has been disclosed only now, when scientists managed to place him in a family tree. The findings have been published in the journal Nature Communications.
The mammal which baffled Darwin had a peculiar appearance
The animal in question, Macrauchenia patachonica, resembled a humpless camel featuring a neck like a llama’s, and a nose shaped like a small trunk. It lived in the last ice age in Patagonia, today’s Argentina. Scientists think the purpose of the long neck was to reach the leaves and bushes of tall trees.
However, what was outstanding about this animal was the nose. Unfortunately, researchers lack any fossils containing soft tissue, so they don’t know for sure what the actual shape of its nose was. It could have been shaped like a trunk, or resemble the tapir’s appendage.
The first fossil of Macrauchenia patachonica was first found by Charles Darwin in 1834. He included it in the category of the South American native ungulates, but neither he nor other scientists could tell where it is situated in a family tree, or trace back any common origin to a modern-day mammal. This happened mostly because they only had several vertebrae and limb fossils as the object of their study.
Mitochondrial DNA from the fossils found the animal’s place among mammals
Also, the ungulate group is quite peculiar, since it gathers peculiar animals which seemingly bear few similarities between each other. Also, many of them are now extinct, so it is hard to establish if they have a common origin. However, in 2015, they were able to extract mitochondrial DNA from a South American fossil and found a place for this group on the evolutionary scale.
Therefore, they discovered that Macrauchenia is a sister group of Perissodactyla. This group includes animals like horses, rhinos, or tapirs, and it split 66 million years ago. Now, they discovered where to insert it in the mammals’ family tree, and can find out how these animals evolved such odd features.
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