name = "Fruitafossor"
fossil_range = Late Jurassic

image_width = 250px
regnum = Animalia
phylum = Chordata
classis = Mammalia
subclassis = "incertae sedis"
familia = Fruitafossoridae
familia_authority = Luo and Wible, 2005
genus = "Fruitafossor"
genus_authority = Luo and Wible, 2005
species = "F. windscheffeli"
binomial = "Fruitafossor windscheffeli"
binomial_authority = Luo and Wible, 2005

"Fruitafossor" was a termite-eating mammal which dates to the late Jurassic period, about 150 million years ago. The description is based on a surprisingly complete skeleton of a chipmunk-sized animal. It was discovered on March 31, 2005, in Fruita, Colorado. It resembled an armadillo (or anteater) and probably ate colonial insects in much the same manner as these animals do today. Other skeletal features clearly show that "Fruitafossor" was not related to armadillos, anteaters, or any modern group of mammal.. This indicates that specializations associated with feeding on ants or termites have independently evolved many times in mammals: in "Fruitafossor", anteaters, numbats, aardvarks, and spiny anteaters.

Armadillo teeth and Popeye arms

The teeth of "Fruitafossor" bear a striking resemblance to modern armadillos and aardvarks. They were open-rooted, peg-like teeth without enamel. This type of tooth is present today in insectivorous mammals, particularly those that are highly specialized to feed on colonial insects. This is termed myrmecophagous. Since ants had not yet evolved at the time of "Fruitafossor", it is assumed that these animals fed on termites, which were abundant along with their relatives the cockroaches.

"Fruitafossor" has been nicknamed Popeye, after the cartoon sailor, because of its large front-limbs. The features of the front-limb indicate that the animal was fossorial, employing scratch digging like modern moles, gophers, and spiny anteaters. The olecranon process was highly enlarged indicating the forelimb had powerful muscles. This feature also supports the idea that they were myrmecophagous, as modern mammals employ this technique to break into termite mounds.

Its vertebral column is also very similar to armadillos, sloths, and anteaters (order Xenarthra). It had extra points of contact among vertebrae similar to the xenarthrous process that are only known in these modern forms. These processes generate a rigid and relatively inflexible backbone, which is good for digging.

This find is an important discovery in mammal evolution, because of where it fits in the evolutionary tree of mammals and because of its ecological niche. Most mammals of the Mesozoic were omnivores or unspecialized insectivores. "Fruitafossor" is unique in the degree of specialization, both for digging and in regard to how specialized it was on insects. This fossil, along with others such as "Repenomamus", "Volaticotherium", and "Castorocauda", challenge the notion that early mammals and mammaliaforms were restricted to a single niche and demonstrate that at least some early specialization occurred.

To what is it related?

"Fruitafossor" has no modern relatives. It is an early offshoot of mammal related to therians (the subclass containing marsupials and placentals). It has a unique suite of therian and prototherian characteristics. Its shoulder-girdle is similar to a platypus or reptile, but many other features are more similar to most other modern mammals. This has led researchers to suggest that it may have been the earliest known relative to the evolutionary line leading to Theria.

The genus name, "Fruitafossor", comes from Fruita, Colorado, where it was discovered. The "fossor" indicates the fossorial, or digging, specialization of the forelimbs. The specific epithet, "windscheffeli", is in honor of Wally Windscheffel, who discovered the specimen along with C. Safris.


Luo, Z.-X. and J. R. Wible. 2005. A Late Jurassic Digging Mammal and Early Mammal Diversification. Science, 308:103-107.

External links

* [ "Science" article on "Fruitafossor"]
* [ "National Geographic": "Popeye" Jurassic Mammal Found, Had "Peculiar Teeth"]
* [ Carnegie Museum of Natural History News]
* [ BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Termite eater lived with dinos]

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