Ancient mammal remains digested by crocodiles reveal new species

Fossilised bones that appear to have been digested by crocodiles in the Cayman Islands have revealed three new species and subspecies of mammal that roamed the island more than 300 years ago.

An expert team led by international conservation charity ZSL (Zoological Society of London), the American Museum of Natural History, and the New Mexico Museum of Natural History studied the bones from collections in British and American museums including the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida. The bones had been previously collected from caves, sinkholes and peat deposits on the Cayman Islands between the 1930s and 1990s.


Cuban hutia Capromys pilorides, closest living relative to the newly described mammals.
Credit: Nancy Albury

Published in the Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, the team describe two new large rodents (Capromys pilorides lewisi and Geocapromys caymanensis), as well as a small shrew-like mammal named Nesophontes hemicingulus. Fossil remains of the land mammal have been previously reported from the Cayman Islands, but have not been scientifically described until now.

The three mammals were unique to the Cayman Islands, existing nowhere else in the world. The scientists calculated that they would have probably become extinct around the 1700s, likely due to the arrival of European settlers and introduced mammals such as rats, cats and dogs.

Research article: Late Quaternary fossil mammals from the Cayman Islands, West Indies

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