Dormaal Belgium Brings New Carnivore Fossil


Scientists in Belgium have discovered a new species of carnivore: Dormaalocyon latouri.  Fossils from this link to modern day carnivorous mammals, dating back to the Paleocene Era over 55 million years ago, were discovered at the site in Dormaal, Belgium.  The site was first discovered in the 1880s.  Fossil bones found at the site include jaw bones, teeth, and ankle bones. Paleontologists reveal that the ankle bones suggest a tree dwelling mammal.

Paleontologists from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences have recovered fossils from 40 different early mammal species from this location since its discovery.  The carnivorous mammals of today are believed to descend from one of the four groups of carnivorous mammals found in the Eras spanning from 66 million to 33 million years ago.

On Jan. 6, in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Paleontologists described what the fossil bones conclude about the Dormaalocyon latouri. It is believed that the Dormaalocyon latouri was a two-pound, cat-like, tree dwelling mammal.  This is believed to prove that the area was at one time a sub-tropical forest.  The arboreal animal dwelled in the humid canopy feeding on smaller mammals and insects according to scientists.

According to Paleontologists, tracing the carnivore history is difficult because the incidence of carnivores is actually quite rare in the fossil record.  There are far more herbivores and omnivores than carnivores.  This discovery and another at a site in France may give scientists the clues in the evolutionary history they need to complete the link.

The Paleocene Era spanned from 66 million to 56 million years ago.  This was followed by the Eocene era that lasted to 33 million years ago.  It is suggested that the landscape of Europe during those eras was warm and humid.  The area may have been a wooded forest during the time of the Dormaalocyon latouri’s existence.

Dormaalocyon latouri’s small size is possibly attributed to an extremely warm period of time that followed an event known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM).  PETM was a kind of global warming that scientists believed had a cause and effect relationship showing a substantial decrease in body size of mammalian species in response to global warming.

According to scientists a decrease in body size in mammals is a common evolutionary response to hyper thermals which are extreme global warming events.  Scientists believe this pattern may predict the natural response for some species to future global warming events.  The period of PETM lasted approximately 160,000 years.

Dormaalocyon latouri will also help scientists determine the evolution of mammals after the disappearance of the largest dinosaurs which occurred during the Cretaceous–Paleogene mass extinction event.  Scientists believe the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event was triggered by a massive comet or asteroid collision with the Earth.  In this event it is estimated that more than 75 percent of the species on Earth went extinct.

The Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event opened the Cenozoic Era known as the “Age of Mammals”.  During this time the Earth experienced a cooling and drying trend.  The Cenozoic Era spans from 66 million years ago to present day.


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