With each passing day, researchers seem to discover previously-unknown animal species. Some of those still exist today, but many come by way of old fossils that tell a story about life on Early planet Earth. In a more recent finding, researchers discovered one of the latter and published their results in the journal PLOS ONE.
While perusing Ecuador with a fine-toothed comb, researchers discovered an old dolphin skull that didn’t match the facial features of any known dolphin alive today.
Image Credit: Tanaka et al (2017)
“The skull was found in one of the first expeditions to a coastal cliff near Olón, in some fallen rocks that previously yielded some shark teeth,” study co-author Juan Abella explained in a statement.
“We first saw the tip of a skull in the rock, with nothing else showing. However, as I cleaned loose sediment from the rock with a brush, two ear bones appeared. More bones became apparent, although other parts of the skull were lost to erosion, probably by waves.”
The details raised some eyebrows, but the skull became even more intriguing when a dating test revealed that it might be anywhere between 24 million and 26 million years old. Urkudelphis chawpipacha, as they called it, may have existed sometime during the Oligocene epoch.
So what facial features seemed to make the new species stand out from the rest? The study’s lead author, Yoshihiro Tanaka explains:
“Urkudelphis chawpipacha differs in that it has widely exposed features known as frontals at the vertex in the top of the skull and a strongly pointed feature on one of the ear bones. This bone, termed the periotic, is often unique for a given species.”
Given that there’s so much debate regarding the evolution of dolphins, fossil findings like this one can help experts create a more accurate timeline regarding how they changed over time. This discovery is a significant motivator for researchers to find more relics of the ancient world.
It should be interesting if any other results turn up where the researchers had found the skull. If not, perhaps another discovery in the future might bring some clarity to the situation.