May 25, 2011
Tiny fossil teeth discovered in Inner Mongolia are a new species of birch mouse, indicating that ancestors of the small rodent are much older than previously reported, according to paleontologist Yuri Kimura, Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
Fossils of the new species were discovered in sediments that are 17 million years old, said Kimura, who identified the new species and named it Sicista primus to include the Latin word for "first."
Previously the oldest prehistoric ancestor of the modern-day birch mouse was one that inhabited Inner Mongolia 8 million years ago.
Adding 9 million years to the ancestry of the rodent family that includes birch mice and jumping mice distinguishes this genus, Sicista, as a "living fossil," Kimura said. That places the genus among some of the most unique rodents on earth — those whose ancestry spans 2 to 3 times the average, she said.
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