The 48-million-year-old skeleton of Indohyus spent much of its life in water and is a close relative of whales. The cell phone is for size comparison.
Finding the Four-Footed Ancestors of Whales
News story originally written on December 20, 2007
Scientists have known for a long time that whales, the largest marine mammals, have distant relatives that lived on land millions of years ago. A team of scientists has been searching for fossils to better understand how whales evolved. In the past 15 years, they have found fossils that show how, over millions of years, these mammals evolved from small four-footed land animals to extra large marine animals.
Now the team of scientists has discovered the closest known fossil relative of whales that lived on land. This extinct species lived approximately 48 million years ago. The team studied hundreds of fossil bones and they found that the skulls and ears of the fossils are similar to whales living today.
It may have lived on land, but there is fossil evidence that the whales’ four-footed ancestor spent much of its time in the water. A fox-sized mammal that looked something like a tiny deer, its bones are similar to the bones of animals that wade slowly in shallow water, such as the hippopotamus today. And its teeth are similar to aquatic animals.
Last modified December 20, 2007 by Lisa Gardiner.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
Our online store
includes issues of NESTA's quarterly journal, The Earth Scientist
, full of classroom activities on different topics in Earth and space science, as well as books
on science education!
You might also be interested in:
Fossils are evidence of what life was like long ago. The oldest fossils are over three billion years old and the youngest fossils are about 10,000 years old. Scientists that study fossils know that creatures...more
Scientists have learned that Mount Hood, Oregon's tallest mountain, has erupted in the past due to the mixing of two different types of magma. Adam Kent, a geologist at Oregon State University, says this...more
The Earth's mantle is a rocky, solid shell that is between the Earth's crust and the outer core. The mantle is made up of many different reservoirs that have different chemical compositions. Scientists...more
Some faults look strong and like they wouldn’t cause an earthquake. But it turns out that they can slip and slide like weak faults causing earthquakes. Scientists have been looking at one of these faults...more
The sun goes through cycles that last approximately 11 years. These solar cycle include phases with more magnetic activity, sunspots, and solar flares. They also include phases with less activity. The...more
Studying tree rings doesn't only tell us the age of that tree. Tree rings also show what climate was like while the tree was alive. This means that tree rings can tell us about climates of the past. Two...more
Earth's first life form may have developed between the layers of a chunk of mica sitting like a multilayered sandwich in primordial waters, according to a new hypothesis. The mica hypothesis, which was...more