Dental records provide incredible information about humans. They’re especially invaluable when it comes to forensic dentistry. A person’s dental imprint is often so unique that it can pinpoint a single individual as a perpetrator or victim.
A wealth of knowledge can also be found from teeth. Age can be estimated, so too can gender, race, occupation, and even socioeconomic status. Teeth can also reveal a great deal of information about, not just humans, but animals…especially extinct ones.
The Nature of the Beast
The animal in question here is the platypus. They are a very unique and rare breed indeed. Along with the four species of echidna, it is one of five species still in existence that lay eggs instead of giving birth (check out monotremes).
Their evolutionary history is patchy at best. Why did all other mammals evolve into animals that give birth? Because of their early divergence from other mammals in the past, not to mention their small numbers currently, platypuses are some of the most misunderstood and heavily researched animals.
An Ancient Ancestor
Now, however, a crucial link has been found to one of its ancestors. What is the connection? A single tooth has been discovered that’s revealed the existence of an ancient giant platypus.
This one, sole tooth provides a breadth of knowledge about this newly discovered relative. The tooth features bumps and ridges that have led researchers to conjecture it was an aquatic mammal. It most likely lived in freshwater pools, feeding on small yet plentiful prey like crayfish, crustaceans, and small vertebrates like lungfish, frogs, and turtles.
Found embedded in limestone, the tooth’s estimated to be 5 to 15 million years old. Based on the size of the tooth, scientists believe that this ancient platypus was roughly 3 feet long. That’s twice the length of the average extant platypus. Scientists have given it the name Obdurodon tharalkooschild (don’t ask me for the meaning).
The discovery’s importance lies in the fact that this ancient platypus represents a completely different branch of the platypus family. Before, it was assumed the the modern platypus had a single direct evolutionary lineage.
This discovery raises many questions about the evolution of the platypus. Now that it’s revealed to have more than one related ancestor, it means its evolution was quite different. The new discovery also shows the shrinking distribution of the platypus, so that nowadays there is only one species left in its family.
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