250-Million-Years-Old Relative of Mammals Was Hibernating to Survive

A team of paleontologists from the US found evidence of hibernating for an ancient relative of today’s mammals. The creature lived during the Early Triassic Epoch, which translates to between 253 and 248 million years ago.

The ancient being is known as Lystrosaurus, which means a type of dicynodont that was measuring between 1.8 and 2.4 meters in length. You can see an artist’s impression of the ancient creature below:

Credit for the image goes to Victor O. Leshyk from the University of Birmingham. Oddly enough, the ancient creatures had no teeth but instead featured a pair of tusks in the upper jaw.

What triggered the discovery

The team of paleontologists was able to conclude that Lystrosaurus could hibernate due to the high-resolution of incremental growth marks found in the fossilized tusks of fossils of the creatures found in Antarctica. The Lystrosaurus’ tusks grew continuously throughout their lives, and they revealed information about the animal’s growth, metabolism, and stress or strain. The paleontologists further compared cross-sections of tusks from Antarctic Lystrosaurus to cross-sections of four types of the same creatures from South Africa. The tusks belonging to the two regions showed similar growth patterns. But the difference is that Antarctic fossils featured tusks that were closely-spaced and had thick rings. This can indicate periods of less deposition because of prolonged stress.

Professor Christian Sidor from the Burke Museum and who’s also co-author of the study, declared:

The fact that Lystrosaurus survived the end-Permian mass extinction and had such a wide range in the early Triassic has made them a very well-studied group of animals for understanding survival and adaptation,

The newfound Lystrosaurus fossils from Antarctica mean the oldest evidence of a hibernation-like state for a vertebrate animal. The discovery also indicates that torpor, which is a general term for hibernation and similar states, arose in some forms of life even before the emergence of both mammals and dinosaurs.

Lead author Dr. Megan Whitney, who’s also a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard University, said:

Animals that live at or near the poles have always had to cope with the more extreme environments present there,

The researcher further said:

These preliminary findings indicate that entering into a hibernation-like state is not a relatively new type of adaptation. It is an ancient one.”

The new study was published in the journal Communications Biology.

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