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Ancient opossum-like mammal, "oddest of oddballs," discovered by Denver researcher

Posted at 12:44 PM, Apr 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-29 14:46:46-04

DENVER — The creature likely looked like a opossum, or maybe a badger, but with odd hole at the top its snout, a strange curve in one of its legs, and more vertebrae than any mammal of its time.

Then again, we're talking about 66 million years ago.

The skeletal remains of the ancient Adalatherium were discovered in Madagascar recently by a team of researchers led by Dr. David Krause, a senior curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. The name for the animal — the oldest mammal ever discovered in the southern hemisphere — translates from the Malagasy and Greek languages to "crazy beast."

“Knowing what we know about the skeletal anatomy of all living and extinct mammals, it is difficult to imagine that a mammal like Adalatherium could have evolved," Krause said in a news release. "It bends and even breaks a lot of rules.”

The discovery was announced Wednesday in the research journal Nature.

The animal had more holes on its face than any other known mammal, according to the researchers, including the large hole at the top its snout.

Simone Hoffman, a collaborator on the discovery from the New York Institute of Technology, called the Adalatherium "the oddest of oddballs," with its unique construction and extra vertebrae from any other mammal of the Mesozoic time period.

"Trying to figure out how it moved is nearly impossible because, for instance, its front end is telling us a different story than its back end," Hoffman said.

Read more about the Adalatherium from the museum here.