Canadian scientists have uncovered a fossil of the smallest hedgehog in existence. The creature, which measures to only two inches, is immortalized in a fossil that’s at least 50 million years old.
According to scientists Natalia Rybczynksi of the Canadian Museum of Nature and Jaelyn Eberle, a professor at the University of Colorado, the tiny hedgehog could have been a relative of the tapir. The fossil surfaced in British Columbia at the Driftwood Canyon.
It’s estimated that the tiny hedgehog would have lived somewhere in the British Columbia rainforest and would have thrived in a hotter environment than today’s world. According to Eberle’s research, the fossil is notable because no other mammals have been traced in Canada near the Arctic from the Eocene Epoch, which occurred roughly 50 million years ago.
Rybczynksi and Eberle are hoping to use the uncovering of the fossil as a means of looking more into the mammals of this area. The two have written a paper about their findings of the hedgehog fossil, which was just released yesterday in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
Eberle knows that what they’ve found is of great significance to the mammalian world. “Plants and insects have been on the radar for sometime, but fossil mammals haven’t turned up. It’s a blank slate until these B.C. mammals came along,” she said.
The groundwork for uncovering information about the fossil began with Brandon University instructor Dave Greenwood, whose class is responsible for discovering some of the fauna. Greenwood, working with Rybczynski and Eberle, gave them his information, and the team began researching.
Eberle had a fossil of a Heptodon, a creature similar to a tapir, on record to use as a reference. They uncovered parts of this creature’s jawbone. However, the tiny hedgehog was a complete mystery to the researchers considering that no one knew what it was. Beyond that, the fossil they had found was also exceedingly small. According to Rybczynski, the tiny hedgehog’s skull measures to half a centimeter, which is less than an inch.
Therefore, Rybczynski and Eberle took advantage of 3D scanners to take a closer look at the skull. They eventually named the tiny hedgehog the Silvacola acares, which translates to “tiny forest dweller.”
Rybczynski knows that her and Eberle’s research is far from finished. “We can look in the past to get an idea of what’s going to happen,” she said.
Next, the team plan on returning to Driftwood Canyon to seek out more mammals from the Eocene Epoch. Further fossils and other samples will only expand their understanding of how these animals may have met their end. Rybczynski notes that the environment was the hottest experienced since the dinosaur age.