'Living fossils' are plants or animals that were once known to have been extinct for millions of years. But then, survived the test of time and are now found to be alive. Read on to know 10 amazing mammals, scientists consider as ‘living fossil’.
Aardvarks (Orycteropus afer), also called “antbears,” is endemic throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Genetically speaking, this burrowing animal resembling a pig is a living fossil, since it is the only extant representative of the order Tubulidentata. Its nearest relative is the elephant shrew. Aside from the pig-like body and a long snout, the Aardvark manifests other weird features–a kangaroo tail, a long sticky tongue and rabbit-like ears.
A solitary and nocturnal animal, it inhabits grasslands, savannahs and woodlands. It feeds mostly on ants and termites. Sporting a thin Yellowish/Gray/ Brown coat, adult ones measure between 109 to 135 cm in body length , around 50 to 82 kg in weight and about and 53 to 66 cm tall. Aardvark can live up to 23 years in captivity.
The only species in its genus, the Amami Rabbit(Pentalagus furnessi), also called as the Ryukyu Rabbit, is found only in Amami Ōshima and Toku-no-Shima, two small islands of Japan. This primitive dark-furred rabbit, called a living fossil, because its physical characteristics resemble those of prehistoric rabbits living during the Miocene age.
The Amami Rabbit has a bulky body, small eyes and ears, short limbs, a long snout and large, curved claws. This forest-dweller has dense and wooly fur that is dark-brown in color, mark with reddish-brown underbelly. It measures between 430-510 mm long and around 2 kg in weight. The Amami Rabbit’s diet includes berries, bamboo shoots, acorn, leaves and stem of sweet potatoes. As a result of rampant hunting, this ancient rabbit is Classified as Endangered on the 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Chevrotain, also called mouse deer, is any of 10 extant species of small, hoofed mammals found in Africa and SE Asia. These living fossils of primitive ruminant mammals are classified under the family Tragulidae (order Artiodactyla). All species lack horns, but have strong upper canine teeth. They sport reddish-brown coat mark with white spots. Depending on the species, chevrotains measure between 20 -50 cm at the shoulder, and weigh between 0.7-16 kg.
They have rabbit-like body, arched back and very slender legs. They are solitary and nocturnal mammals that feed on leaves, twigs and fruits of plants. However, the African water chevrotain (Hyemoschus aquaticus), occasionally feed on insects, crabs, and fish.
Elephant shrews, also called jumping shrews, are small mouse-like mammals indigenous to Africa, comprising the family Macroscelididae, in the order Macroscelidea. These living fossils are not related to the true shrew and recent studies suggests that they are more related to golden moles, aadvarks, hydraxes and elephants. These primitive mammals have elephant-like long noses and the trunk, large canine teeth, long legs and short mouse-like tails.
Elephant shrews measure between 10-30 cm and weigh from 50-500 g, depending on the species. Colors vary from brown to gray to a combination of the two. The Elephant shrews diet includes: insects, earthworm, spiders, centipedes, and millipedes. Some species also consume leaves, fruits and seeds.
The Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus)is a cute and amazing mammal native to Australia, and the only living species of the family Phascolarctidae. These herbivorous marsupials might have originated from wombat-like animals (its closest living relative). These arboreal and placid bear-like animals are active only for 3-5 hours a day, which they mostly used feeding on eucalyptus leaves.
Koala has a flat nose, big ears and ash-grey thick furred coat, with white markings on the chest. Koalas of the southern regions which are larger than the northern ones average 78 cm (males) and 8 kg (males). Koalas can live between 13-18 years.
The Iriomote cat (Prionailurus iriomotensis), is a wild cat considered a “living fossil” that is only found on the Japanese island of Iriomote. Discovered in 1965, this endangered species of cat have dark brown fur with dark stripes around the neck, elongated body, short legs and a bushy tail. A solitary but excellent hunter, it measures 48 cm in body length, 25 cm at shoulder height and weighs between 3–7 kg. It feeds on rats, bats, snakes, birds, lizards, frogs and insects. With barely 100 individuals left, the Iriomote cat is listed as Critically Endangered by The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).
Monito del Monte
Regarded by scientists as a living fossil, the Monito del Monte (Dromiciops gliroides) or “mountain monkey”, a small marsupial is the only surviving representative of the superorder Australidelphia. A nocturnal and arboreal mammal, it is widespread across Argentina and Chile inhabiting dense, cool, humid forests. Slightly larger than a mouse, it measures between 83-130mm (head to body) length, around 90-132 mm tall and weighs between 16-42 g.
It has dense, silky brown-colored fur, short and furry ears, round eyes mark by black rings and a hairy prehensile tail. An amazing and excellent tree climber, it feeds mainly on insects and other small invertebrates. The Monito del Monte has a life span of about 2 years. Its population decreasing due to habitat loss, this marsupial is Listed as Vulnerable on the 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The okapi (Okapia johnstoni), is another amazing ’living fossil’, resembling a zebra, but is more closely related to the giraffe. Currently numbering about 10,000–20,000 in the wild, Okapis are native to the Ituri Rainforest, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in Central Africa. On average, they measure between 1.9 – 2.5 m long, stand 1.5 – 2.0 m at the shoulder and weigh between 200 – 300 kilograms.
These giraffe-like mammals have reddish-brown coat mark with horizontal white stripes on their legs. They have large ears and a 14 inch bluish grey tongue. A solitary, diurnal mammal, okapis feed on tree leaves and shoots, fruits, ferns and grass.
The red panda (Ailurus fulgens), the only living representative of the genus Ailurus, is a small tree-dwelling mammal found in China, Myanmar, Nepal, and Bhutan. Red panda is just about the size of a domestic cat, measuring between 50 to 65 cm in head to body length, and weighing around 5.4 to 9 kg.
It has soft reddish-brown fur, a cat-like whiskers, and a hairy tail reaching 30 to 50 cm long. A shy, solitary but excellent tree climber, it feeds mainly on bamboos but may also consume insects, birds, eggs, and other small mammals. Its population declining cause by habitat loss and poaching, the red panda is now endangered.
The giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), is a bear native to central China, which inhabits high altitude bamboo-rich coniferous forests. These amazing ‘living fossils’ can easily be recognized by the large, unique black patches surrounding the eyes and across its round body. A terrestrial animal, it feed primarily on bamboos and occasionally wild tubers and grasses.
Adult pandas measure between 1.2 to 1.8 m long, around 75 cm tall at the shoulder, and can weigh up to 150 kilograms. The tail can measure 10 to 15 centimeters. In the wild, pandas can live up 20 years and up to 30 years in captivity. Due to habitat loss and other development, the panda is now an endangered species