Crazy Beast from the South: Full fossil skeleton of a bizarre badger-like mammal that lived 66 million years ago is unearthed in Madagascar

  • The 2ft long badger weighed 7lbs and had three huge curved fangs in its mouth
  • The badger-like mammal had an unusual short, stubby tail and holes in its face
  • It’s the first full fossil mammal remains found from the Gondwana sub-continent

A giant fanged mammal that lived at the time of the dinosaurs, has been discovered by archaeologists in Madagascar – and they’ve named it ‘Crazy Beast’.

The two foot long seven pound creature had three huge curved front fangs, an unusual short, stubby tail and holes in its face – it lived 66 million years ago.

Researchers from Stony Brook University say the badger-like mammal – named Adalatherium – lived among meat-eating theropod dinosaurs and giant crocodiles.

While it looks like a badger on the outside its similarity is only skin deep, say researchers, adding that it ‘breaks some of the known rules of evolution’. 

This is in part due to the incredibly sensitive whiskers, unusually large fangs and the fact it is larger than would be expected for a mammal at that time. 

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Life-like reconstruction of Adalatherium from the Late Cretaceous of Madagascar. It is a giant fanged mammal that lived at the time of the dinosaurs, has been discovered by archaeologists in Madagascar – and they’ve named it ‘Crazy Beast’.

Adalatherium could shed light on how mammals survived – and went on to rule the planet, according to the researchers, who say it was killed in a landslide. 

This meant it was buried under layers of mud and so its remains were preserved – it’s the first full fossil found from Gondwana – the southern half of Pangaea.

This was shortly before a city sized space rock wiped out the biggest land creatures ever to roam the Earth – the dinosaurs.

Lead author Professor David Krause said it’s hard to imagine how a mammal like Adalatherium could have evolved amongst so many meat-eating creatures.

He said ‘it bends and even breaks a lot of rules’ known about evolution – the remote location explains Adalatherium’s size compared to other rodents.

To put it in perspective, a modern brown rat tips the scales at seven ounces – and measures less than 12 inches – Adalatherium was 2ft and 7lbs.

Exposed to fewer predators, small animals like rodents get bigger – a phenomenon dubbed ‘island gigantism’.

Adalatherium is the first almost complete fossil of a mammal from Gondwana – the southern half of the ancient supercontinent Pangaea.

The rodent like mammal lived around 70 million years ago – roughly 20 million years after Madagascar split from the Indian subcontinent and the Seychelles.

This provided ‘ample time to develop its many ludicrous features,’ said Prof Krause.

Adalatherium, described in Nature, might have looked like a run-of-the-mill badger but its skeleton is ‘outlandish’, he said.

It had holes in its face that served as passageways for nerves and blood vessels – supplying a very sensitive snout covered with whiskers.

One at the top is very large for which there is no parallel in any other known mammal – living or extinct.

Its backbone had more vertebrae than any mammal of the time and one of its leg bones was strangely curved.

Most mammals that lived alongside dinosaurs were much smaller – mouse-sized on average – as it was easier to escape the giant beasts.

Adalatherium was very different to other mammals and even ‘breaks some of the rules’ of evolution 

Adalatherium breaks some of the known rules of evolution, say experts.

On the surface it is similar to a modern badger – but this changes when you look below the skin. 

Below the surface, its skeleton is nothing short of ‘outlandish.’ 

It has primitive features in its snout region that hadn’t been seen for a hundred million years in the lineage leading to modern mammals. 

Adalatherium had more holes on its face than any known mammal.

The holes served as passageways for nerves and blood vessels supplying a very sensitive snout that was covered with whiskers. 

There is one very large hole on the top of its snout for which there is just no parallel in any known mammal.

The teeth of Adalatherium are vastly different in construction than any known mammal. 

Its backbone had more vertebrae than any Mesozoic mammal and one of its leg bones was strangely curved.

About the size of a Virginia opossum, Adalatherium was also unusual in that it was very large for its day.

The complete fossil found in Madagascar was 2ft and 7lbs. 

Krause, a palaeontologist at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Colorado, said: ‘The front teeth – two at the top and one at the bottom – were very large and had enamel on only one side.

‘We believe they were used for gnawing and the back teeth for slicing up vegetation of some kind – in other words, Adalatherium was likely a plant-eater.

‘Based on its big skull we think it was probably a digger – and it possibly made burrows.

‘This is indicated by some badger-like features – powerful hind limbs and a short, stubby tail.’

It lived in harsh times – with long dry seasons interspersed with monsoons that caused landslides and buried everything in sight. 

‘This resulted in the burial of the skeleton of Adalatherium soon after it had died or perhaps even while still alive – as indicated by the tight articulation and exquisite preservation of the skeleton,’ said Krause.

Adalatherium belonged to a group known as the Gondwanatheria and until now only isolated jaws, teeth and a single skull had been found.

‘It represents a new species named Adalatherium hui – Adala is a Malagasy word meaning ‘crazy’ and therium is Greek for ‘beast’,’ said Krause.

The ‘astoundingly well preserved’ skeleton belonged to a juvenile. It includes a large number of trunk vertebrae, including its rib bones, and a short, broad tail.

Prof Krause added: ‘It was over 20 inches long and had a body mass of 6.8 lbs. But it was a sub-adult. It would have been longer and heavier when fully grown.’

‘This may reflect gigantism as a result of the species’ evolution in isolation.’

View of plaster jacket containing skeleton of Adalatherium being carried from excavation site to road. Author David Krause at left front. The ‘astoundingly well preserved’ skeleton belonged to a juvenile. It includes a large number of trunk vertebrae, including its rib bones, and a short, broad tail

An analysis of evolutionary relationships with other species placed the new species close to an extinct group called multituberculates.

These were rodent-like mammals that survived the event that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs.

They were plant eaters that resemble a beaver – and are largely known from the northern continents.

Co-author Simone Hoffmann, of the New York Institute of Technology, said this newly discovered mammal ‘is the oddest of oddballs’.

‘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,’ Hoffmann said.

Madagascar is filled with animals – and plants – found nowhere else on the planet. 

These include including hissing cockroaches, giraffe weevils, tomato frogs, Satanic leaf-tailed geckos, panther chameleons and streaked tenrecs to name a few.

There is also the signature group of mammals – lemurs – made famous in the animated ‘Madagascar’ movies.

Only a few thousand years ago, the bizarre fauna also included 1,400-pound elephant birds, gorilla-sized lemurs and pygmy hippopotamuses.

Adalatherium is a ‘missing link’ in mammal evolution. The fossil record from Laurasia – the northern continent of Pangaea – is much richer than that from Gondwana.

Prof Krause said: ‘We know precious little about the evolution of early mammals in the southern hemisphere. Now we have this complete skeleton.’ 

Gondwana is the Southern landmass formed from the break up of the first supercontinent Pangaea

Only 70 years ago most scientists thought the Earth’s continents were fixed in position from the start of time.

As geologists studied the Earth’s rocks further and palaeontologists considered the locations of fossils a new theory gained popularity.

It argued that the Earth’s land masses have been engaged in a magnificent waltz across the planet’s history.

This dance continues today as the oceans, mountains and valleys continue to change as a consequence of the moving of the Earth’s tectonic plates.

The supercontinent Pangea began fragmenting around 250 million years ago, producing the Northern landmass known as Laurasia and the Southern landmass Gondwana. 

Then, the massive landmass of Gondwana began to pull apart around 165 million years ago. 

This process took a long time. One of the last areas to separate was Tasmania, Australia, from Antarctica around 45 million years ago. 

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