Science writer Laura Geggel with Live Science covered the research of SMU paleontologist Louis L. Jacobs, a professor in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, and paleontologist Anthony Fiorillo, vice president of research and collections and chief curator at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Dallas, and an adjunct research professor at SMU.
Jacobs and Fiorillo are co-authors of a study about the identification of new fossils from the oddball creature Desmostylia, discovered in the same waters where the popular “Deadliest Catch” TV show is filmed. The hippo-like creature ate like a vacuum cleaner and is a new genus and species of the only order of marine mammals ever to go extinct — surviving a mere 23 million years.
Desmostylians, every single species combined, lived in an interval between 33 million and 10 million years ago.
Its strange columnar teeth and odd style of eating don’t occur in any other animal, Jacobs said.
The new specimens — from at least four individuals — were recovered from Unalaska, an Aleutian island in the North Pacific.
The article published Oct. 7, 2015.
By Laura Geggel
About 23 million years ago, an ancient hippo-size mammal used its long snout like a vacuum cleaner, suctioning up food from the heavily vegetated shoreline whenever it was hungry, a new study finds.
Fossils of the newfound species — found on the Aleutian Islands’ Unalaska, the location of the popular reality TV show “Deadliest Catch” — show that it had a long snout and tusks. Its unique tooth and jaw structure indicates it was a vegetarian, said study co-author Louis Jacobs, a vertebrate paleontologist at Southern Methodist University in Texas.
“They were marine mammals, but they were not completely marine, like whales,” Jacobs said in a video about his research. It’s likely they lived both on land and in water, like seals, and could move around on land like a “big, lumbering, clumsy sort of giant sloth,” he said.
“But when they were in the water, they swam like polar bears,” Jacobs said. “They were front-limb-powered swimmers.”
Researchers named the new species Ounalashkastylus tomidai. The word Ounalashka translates to “near the peninsula” in the Aleut language of the indigenous Aleutian Island people, and stylus is Latin for “column,” a reference to the creatures’ column-shaped teeth. The species name tomidai honors the Japanese vertebrate paleontologist Yukimitsu Tomida.
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