‘Cretaceous Furball’ Found With Fur, Spines & Fungal Infection

posted: 10/15/15
by: Discovery.com Staff
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Scientists have unearthed a 125-million-year-old fossil of a hedgehog-like mammal that contains the earliest-known hair and spines in evolutionary history.

Discovered in eastern Spain, the fossilized Spinolestes xenarthrosus fossil was found with "remarkably well-preserved" fur, hair follicles, spines, organs and even a fungal infection. The specimen pushes back the record of mammalian organs and hair by more than 60 million years.

Spinolestes xenarthrosus
Oscar Sanisidro

"Spinolestes is a spectacular find. It is stunning to see almost perfectly preserved skin and hair structures fossilized in microscopic detail in such an old fossil," Zhe-Xi Luo, PhD, co-author of a study about the discovery, says in a news release. "This Cretaceous furball displays the entire structural diversity of modern mammalian skin and hairs."

The size and weight of a modern rat, S. xenarthrosus had complex hair follicles that allowed more than one hair to sprout from a single pore. The creature also had hedgehog-like spines on its back, some of which display evidence of dermatophytosis, a fungal infection still seen in mammals to this day.

The area where the fossil was found was once a "lush wetland with a thriving diversity of life." Researchers have found hundreds of bird, dinosaur and mammal fossils in the vicinity.

S. xenarthrosus is detailed in a study in the journal Nature.


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