Mammal multiplication

Look: 3 newly discovered mammals show how quickly life evolved after dinosaur extinction

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What happened after the fall of the dinosaurs?

It’s easy to assume the world was just a barren wasteland.

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But research shows that, just a few hundred thousand years after the non-avian dinosaurs were wiped out, life started to quickly spread and diversify.

It’s estimated that 75 to 93 percent of mammalian life went extinct along with the dinosaurs.

But some mammals survived — and later thrived — in the subsequent Cenozoic era. It’s nicknamed the “age of mammals” for a reason.

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Now, three newly discovered mammal species help piece together a picture of life in the early Cenozoic.

Here’s an artist’s depiction of what they looked like. From left to right: Conacodon hettingeri, Miniconus jeanninae, and Beornus honeyi.Banana Art Studio

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Remains of their teeth and jaws were uncovered from the Great Divide Basin in Wyoming, and described in an August 17 report in the Journal of Systematic Paleontology.

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All three are classified as condylarths, the predecessors to today’s hoofed mammals: horses, elephants, cows, and hippos.

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These creatures were relatively small in size, as many mammals were at the time. Beornus honeyi was the largest, likely as big a house cat.

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Mammals that lived alongside the dinosaurs were typically the size of mice and rats.

But without dinosaurs in the picture, early Cenozoic mammals had more space to thrive — and get larger.

“When the dinosaurs went extinct, access to different foods and environments enabled mammals to flourish and diversify rapidly in their tooth anatomy and evolve larger body size.”

Madelaine Atteberry, lead study author and researcher at University of Colorado Boulder

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Researchers predict that these creatures may have been omnivores, since they had teeth that would have been capable of grinding up meat as well as plants.

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But the haven’t ruled out the possibility that they could have been herbivores.

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There’s still much to be known about the resilience of these early Cenozoic-era mammals, and how quickly they evolved into the creatures we see today. As paleontologists find more fossils, a clearer picture can emerge of this era.

Read more stories about science here.

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