Mammals might have flown before birds, scientists claim
Dec 29,2006 00:00 by World Science

The first fly­ing mam­mals may have tak­en to the skies much ear­li­er than has been thought, a pa­per in this week’s is­sue of the re­search jour­nal Na­ture sug­gests. 

Jin Meng of the Amer­i­can Mu­se­um of Na­t­u­ral His­to­ry in New York and col­leagues an­a­lysed fos­sil re­mains of a small, squirrel-sized mam­mal that lived in In­ner Mon­go­lia around 125 mil­lion years ago, dur­ing the so-called Mes­o­zo­ic era.

Artist's con­cept of the fly­ing mam­mal (cour­te­sy Chuang Zhao and Lida Xing)
The un­u­su­al beast had sharp teeth, elon­gat­ed limbs and tail, and a fur-covered fold of skin mem­brane that was prob­a­bly used for glid­ing, ac­cord­ing to the re­search­ers.

The ear­li­est con­firmed fos­sil rec­ord of bats is 51 mil­lion years old, sug­gest­ing that the mam­mal flirted with flight at the same time as, if not ear­li­er than, birds ac­cord­ing to Meng.

The researchers added that the mam­mal, which was prob­a­bly noc­tur­nal and dined on in­sects, was about the size of mod­ern fly­ing squir­rels. But they said the an­i­mal, dubbed Vo­la­ti­co­the­ri­um an­ti­quus or “an­cient glid­ing beast,” is un­ique enough to qual­i­fy for its own or­der.