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Photos: These Mammal Ancestors Glided from Jurassic Trees

Ancient flyers

flying mammals

(Image credit: Illustration by April I. Neander/University of Chicago)

Long before there were flying squirrels, ancient mammal-like animals glided from tree to tree.

During the Jurassic period, about 160 million years ago, these creatures used the skin between their forearms and hind limbs to glide around the forest, searching for seeds or soft plant parts to eat.

These newly discovered creatures — named Maiopatagium furculiferum and Vilevolodon diplomylos — show that early mammals were diverse and adapted to live life high in the air, the researchers said. [Read the Full Story on the Furry, Flying Creatures]

Fossil map

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(Image credit: Courtesy of Zhe-Xi Luo/University of Chicago)

The location of the Daxishan fossil site in Liaoning Province and Nanshimen fossil site in Hebei Province, China, where the Maiopatagium furculiferum and Vilevolodon diplomylos specimens were found.

Gliding animal

flying mammals

(Image credit: Photo by Zhe-Xi Luo/University of Chicago)

The gliding animal Maiopatagium furculiferum is now housed at the Beijing Museum of Natural History.

Arboreal life

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(Image credit: Reconstruction by April I. Neander/University of Chicago)

Maiopatagium furculiferum was likely most active during the crepuscular hours of dawn and dusk. The animal likely used its long, agile arms and fingers to climb trees. When it spread out its limbs and jumped, it could glide from tree to tree.

Glider anatomy

flying mammals

(Image credit: Illustrations by April I. Neander/University of Chicago)

A sketch showing the anatomy of Maiopatagium furculiferum, including its (A) standing posture, (B) wishbone-like shoulder girdle and patagia, or membrane and (C) in a four-limbed suspended roosting posture.

Glider No. 2

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(Image credit: Photo by Zhe-Xi Luo/University of Chicago)

The Jurassic gliding animal Vilevolodon diplomylos, showing the fossil slab and counter-slab. The arrows point to the folds of skin that would have helped the animal glide. 

Vilevolodon jaw

flying mammals

(Image credit: Images by April I. Neander/University of Chicago)

Vilevolodon diplomylos' complex teeth and jaw indicate that it was a herbivore.

In fact, the animal's teeth look like those of another arboreal mammal: the modern seed-eating squirrel, even though the two aren't related.

Meal time

flying mammals

(Image credit: Illustration by April I. Neander/University of Chicago)

Vilevolodon diplomylos chews on the soft parts of a plant from the Jurassic, a period that lasted from about 199.6 million to 145.5 million years ago.

[Read the Full Story on the Furry, Flying Creatures]