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Gliding mammal from the Mesozoic of China

These are exciting times for fossil mammals. Not just the Miocene mammal from New Zealand, but now a gliding mammal from the Mesozoic...

Jin Meng, Yaoming Hu, Yuanqing Wang, Xiaolin Wang and Chuankui Li (2006) A Mesozoic gliding mammal from northeastern China. Nature 444: 889-893.

Abstract: "Gliding flight has independently evolved many times in vertebrates. Direct evidence of gliding is rare in fossil records and is unknown in mammals from the Mesozoic era. Here we report a new Mesozoic mammal from Inner Mongolia, China, that represents a previously unknown group characterized by a highly specialized insectivorous dentition and a sizable patagium (flying membrane) for gliding flight. The patagium is covered with dense hair and supported by an elongated tail and limbs; the latter also bear many features adapted for arboreal life. This discovery extends the earliest record of gliding flight for mammals to at least 70 million years earlier in geological history, and demonstrates that early mammals were diverse in their locomotor strategies and lifestyles; they had experimented with an aerial habit at about the same time as, if not earlier than, when birds endeavoured to exploit the sky."

The aerial beastie is _Volaticotherium antiquus_. It was about the size of a flying squirrel, and presumably very similar in habits. The specimen even preserves a patagium. The authors place it in its own order (Volaticotheria), which forms the sister taxon to clade containing eutriconodontans, multituberculates and trechnotherians. _Volaticotherium_ comes from the Daohugou beds of Ningcheng County, Inner Mongolia, China, the age of which is "controversial".



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