After the last of its kind died out about 12,000 years ago, a strange animal that stumped Charles Darwin is finally being added to the tree of life, according to a new study in the journal Nature Communications.
Macrauchenia patachonica lived during the last ice age. It resembled a bulky camel without a hump, with a long neck like that of a llama and a short trunk for a nose.
Sounds freaking awesome.
The long neck would enable the herbivore to reach leaves on plants and bushes across what is now South America and the open landscapes of Patagonia.
“It was a fairly bulky quadruped, probably not very fleet of foot,” said Ross MacPhee, study co-author and curator at the American Museum of Natural History. “Its outstanding feature, however, was its nose. We have no soft tissue fossils, so we don’t know whether the nose was developed into an actual trunk, like an elephant’s, or was something more like a big fleshy appendage, resembling the tapir’s proboscis. It would not have looked very much like anything alive today.”
The nasal opening is right between the eye sockets, rather than just above the teeth.
Super weird! I like it!
Here is an artist’s rendering:
A previous study tried to place Macrauchenia on the tree of life by using ancient collagen. The new study, led by MacPhee and [University of Potsdam’s Michi] Hofreiter, built on the 2015 collagen study by extracting mitochondrial DNA from a fossil found in South America. The researchers also used a new approach to recovering Macrauchenia’s genome, even without a modern analog.
“I’m pleased to see that our ancient protein results for Macrauchenia are verified using this advancement in ancient DNA alignments of a deeply diverged mammal without close modern relatives,” said Frido Welker, author of the 2015 collagen study. “Overcoming the absence of a close relative while achieving a near-complete mitochondrial genome is impressive.”
Sounds like it should be no trouble at all for them to clone me one of these puppies! YAY!
Next, the researchers want to solve the mystery of what Darwin dubbed “the strangest animal ever discovered”: Toxodon. This giant animal is thought to have looked something like a fur-covered rhinoceros, with the head of a hippopotamus.
Yeah, I think I’ma need one of those too.
Life reconstruction of Toxodon platensis
(image: Nobu Tamura under CC Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 Intl.)
Do you think it comes in purple? Ooh I really hope it comes in purple. I want one that matches my new lipstick.