Although most Mesozoic mammals were rather small, a few different lineages produced some pretty hefty-sized forms – most notably the metatherian Didelphodon, the gondwantherians Adalatherium and Vintana, and the eutriconodont Repenomamus.
And now we’ve got another one to add to that list.
Patagomaia chainko lived towards the end of the Cretaceous, about 70 million years ago, in what is now Patagonia near the southern tip of South America. Known from some partial leg and hip bones, it was potentially the largest known Mesozoic mammal yet discovered – estimated to have been similar in size to a modern bobcat, roughly 50cm tall at the shoulder (~1’8″) and weighing around 14kg (~31lbs).
Distinctive anatomical features of the bones indicate it was an early therian mammal, the group that contains both modern marsupials and placentals, but it can’t currently be classified any more specifically than that. Mesozoic therian fossils are very rare in the southern continents, so Patagomaia‘s presence in late Cretaceous South America adds to their known range and diversity, as well as providing an example of surprisingly large body size for the time.
Without more material it’s impossible to tell what Patagomaia‘s ecology was. I’ve gone for a fairly generic life appearance here, and while what’s known of its joints and muscle attachments doesn’t indicate climbing specializations, plenty of unexpected tetrapods still like to get up on tree branches.
For a long time there were no hadrosaurid fossils known from Africa.
This seemed to mainly be due to the limits of the geography of their time. Hadrosaurs evolved and flourished during the late Cretaceous, when Africa was isolated from all the other continents, and they didn’t seem to have ever found their way across the oceanic barriers.
…Until in 2021 a small hadrosaur was discovered in Morocco, a close relative of several European species, showing that some of these dinosaurs did reach northwest Africa just before the end of the Cretaceous – and with no land bridges or nearby island chains to hop along, they must have arrived from Europe via swimming, floating, or rafting directly across several hundred kilometers of deep water.
And now another hadrosaur has just been described from the same time and place.
Minqaria bata lived in Morocco at the very end of the Cretaceous, about 67 million years ago. Only known from a partial skull, its full appearance and body size is unknown, but it probably measured around 3.5m long (~11’6″) – slightly larger than its previously discovered relative, but still very small for a hadrosaur. It might represent a case of insular dwarfism, since at the time Morocco may have been an island isolated from the rest of northwest Africa.
Along with its close relative Ajnabia, and at least one other currently-unnamed larger hadrosaur species, Minqaria seems to be part of a rapid diversification of hadrosaurs following their arrival in Morocco, adapting into new ecological niches in their new habitat where the only other herbivorous dinosaur competition was titanosaurian sauropods, and the only large predators were abelisaurs.
If the K-Pg mass extinction hadn’t happened just a million years later, who knows what sort of weird African hadrosaurs we could have ended up with?
Panacanthocaris ketmenica* here was a member of an extinct group of crustaceans known as kazacharthrans – close relatives of modern tadpole shrimp known mainly from Central Asia during the mid-to-late Triassic (but with possible German relatives from both the late Triassic and further back in the late Paleozoic).
Fossils of Panacanthocaris have been found in Kazakhstan and northwest China, dating to about 235-221 million years ago. It was fairly big compared to most of its modern cousins, reaching at least 10cm in length (~4″), and had distinctive spines around the edges of its carapace and its telson.
It’s not clear if it had eyes – there’s a single opening near the front of its carapace that may have housed some, and so I’ve depicted it here with just one naupliar eye similar to the “third eye” of tadpole shrimp.
It probably had a fairly similar lifestyle to its modern relatives, living in shallow freshwater and temporary pools and opportunistically feeding on everything from algae to smaller aquatic animals.
(* Sometimes also called P. ketmenia. May also be the same thing as Iliella spinosa, but until that paper is officially published the current name still stands.)
The mancallines were a lineage of flightless semi-aquatic birds closely related to auks. Known from the Pacific coasts of what are now California and Mexico, between about 7.5 and 0.5 million years ago, they convergently evolved a close resemblance and similar lifestyle to both the recently-extinct North Atlantic great auk and the southern penguins.
Miomancalla howardi here lived in offshore waters around southern California during the late Miocene (~7-5 million years ago). The largest of the mancallines, it just slightly beat out the great auk in size – standing around 90cm tall (~3′) and weighing an estimated 5kg (11lbs).
Like great auks and penguins it would have been a specialized wing-propelled diver, swimming using “underwater flight” to feed on small bait fish. It probably spent much of its life out at sea, probably only returning to land to molt and breed.