Science | Geography

The rhino three times bigger than an elephant

Is a mouse more powerful than a dinosaur? The fearsome T rex gets all the Hollywood attention but the first mammals were just as spectacular, says a celebrated new book. In the Age of the Dinosaurs, there were many amazing mammals, like the gliding maiopatagiumThe early mammal had wing-like skin membranes to glide like a modern flying squirrel. and the dino-eating repenomamusA badger-sized mammal. In one specimen, researchers found the fossilised remains of a baby dinosaur.. A cat-sized meat-eater called didelphodon was “probably a more ferocious fighter" than Tyrannosaurus rex, writes Steve Brusatte in his book The Rise and Reign of the Mammals. The story of mammals starts in a CarboniferousDuring this period the tree of life divided into mammal-like synapsids and reptile-like sauropsids. swamp 325 million years ago. The proto-mammals evolved into huge monsters: armadillos as big as cars and a 20-tonne rhino called paraceratherium. Like those alive today, these mammals had warmblood and fur and breastfed their young. They also had bigger brains relative to their size. We don’t give these animals enough attention, says Steve Brusatte. Walking whales, horses with elephant trunks, giant sloths with scythe-like claws. “These all deserve to be as famous as T rex and Velociraptor.” But dinosaurs are awesome. We have been obsessed with them since William Buckland identified megalosaurus in 1824. They are real-life movie monsters. The T rex had 12-inch teeth and the strongest bite of any land animal. In comparison, early mammals like morganucodon were furry insect-eaters that hid in holes. This is unfair, says zoologist Nick Crumpton. To avoid predators, mammals evolved better hearing, sight and smell. “These senses enabled them to communicate with each other,” says Crumpton, in ways impossible for dinosaurs. When an asteroidA small body in space, made of metal and rock material. Asteroids usually orbit the sun, but if knocked off course they can be drawn into Earth’s gravity and fall towards it. killed the dinosaurs, mammals took their place. However, they were not doomed to extinction. It was a “cosmic accident”, says palaeontologistA scientist who studies fossils to learn about history. Nicholas Longrich. If the asteroid had missed Earth, “dinosaurs would still rule the planet — and we wouldn’t.” But unlike T rex and paraceratherium, we are the first species who can think about what it means to be the most powerful animal on Earth. Is a mouse more powerful than a dinosaur? Fantastic beasts Yes: Big teeth aren't everything and a fast mouse can outsmart a giant lizard. Mammals were around before, during and after the dinosaurs. We are history's great survivors, adapting to every environment.

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