Have you ever wondered what animals roamed the earth 65 million years ago?
University of Nebraska-Lincoln student, Carissa Raymond, got the answer when she discovered a specimen of a previously unknown mammal species during her first fossil-hunting trip in New Mexico’s San Juan Basin.
A junior geology and geography major, Raymond was one of three students who was selected to assist paleontologist Ross Secord with fieldwork.
A few days into their trip, in an area known as Kimbeto Wash, she spotted several strange black teeth.
With cusps arranged in rows resembling the teeth of a meat-tenderizing mallet, the teeth were characteristic of multituberculate mammals. These rodent-like creatures lived with dinosaurs more than 100 millions years ago, but survived the dinosaur extinction.
The multitberculate mammals didn’t die out until about 40 million years ago.
Raymond’s discovery was the first new multituberculate mammal found in the New Mexico basin in more than a century.
The project’s leader and curator at the New Mexico Museum of Natural history and Science, Thomas Williamson, compared the fossils with others from around the world. Together with Secord and colleagues at the University of Edinburgh, they concluded that Raymond indeed found an entirely new species.
They named it Kimbetopsalis simmonsae after the wash where it was found and a scientist who studied the animals.
“I knew it was cool– but not this cool,” said Raymond. She found the front incisors and part of the brain case, along with jaws from both sides of the head that contained molars and premolars.
Secord boasted about the young undergraduate’s “great eye for spotting fossils” and noted that even though she had not yet received any formal training in fossil mammals, she turned out to be good at finding them.
They’ve determined that the specimen Raymond discovered was roughly the size of a beaver.
Now, Secord and Williamson are working on a project funded by the National Science Foundation to analyze how mammals have changed over time and to identify sudden changes stemming from climate shifts.