DNA can be extracted from fossils reveals expert
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Dated to the middle Eocene Epoch, the prehistoric animal lived on both land and in water. Scientists believe the 43 million-year-old fossil will help them better understand how whales transitioned to a fully aquatic lifestyle. The fossil was discovered in Egypt’s Fayum Depression – a geographic feature south of Cairo and to the west of the Nile.
Researchers from the Mansoura University Vertebrate Palaeontology Centre (MUVP) have named the creature Phiomicetus anubis, in honour of the jackal-deaded Egyptian god.
The unusual connection is due to the whale’s skull, which eerily resembles that of a Jackal.
The four-legged whale is estimated to have measured about 10ft (three metres) in length and weighed more than 1,300 pounds (600kg).
Spending its time on land and in water, the Phiomicetus would have been a top predator, using its large jaws to clamp down on prey.
The creature’s prey would have likely included crocodiles and small mammals, as well the offspring of other whales.
Abudllah Gohar, a graduate student at Mansoura University, told Live Science: “It was a successful, active predator.
“I think it was the god of death for most animals that lived alongside it.”
Today’s whales are creatures of the seas and oceans, but millions of years ago life was much more bizarre than it is today.
Among the whale’s earliest-known ancestors is the four-legged Pakicetus attocki.
The creature lived about 56 million to 41 million years ago and was discovered in the Kuldana Formation in northern Pakistan.
The Pakicetus grew to lengths of about six feet and seven inches (two metres).
Palaeontologists believe it would have fed on small animals and fish, and represents a transitional stage between terrestrial and aquatic whales.
The discovery of the Phiomicetus anubis adds another dimension to our understanding of the whale’s evolution.
The creature’s discovery was announced this week in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
The paper’s authors wrote: “Over about 10 million years, the ancestors of whales transformed from herbivorous, deer-like, terrestrial mammals into carnivorous and fully aquatic cetaceans.
“Protocetids are Eocene whales that represent a unique semiaquatic stage in that dramatic evolutionary transformation.”
According to the study, the creature evolved certain traits previously unseen in other species of protocetid whales.
These included new anatomical features, such as elongated depressions in the skull.
Paired with other evolutionary advantages, these “unique features” gave the Phiomicetus anubis an edge over the competition that allowed “for a strong raptorial feeding style”.
According to the Natural History Museum in London, the whale’s early ancestors slowly transitioned to an aquatic lifestyle, evolving features that would allow them to thrive in this environment.
The Ambulocetus, for instance, spent time in and out of water 50 million to 48 million years ago but its fossils show rear legs that resembled flippers.
Further along the evolutionary tree, the Dorudon lived its entire life in water, about 40 million to 33 million years ago.
The museum said: “Within 10 million years, from the age of the Pakicetus to Dorudon, cetaceans had completely adapted to life in water.
“That sounds like a long time, but in evolutionary terms this is considerably fast.”
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