Paleontologists discovered a new prehistoric species named Pseudotherium argentinus identical to Scrat of ‘The Ice Age’

Because of its tremendous resemblance, paleontologists thought of naming this new species in allusion to Scrat, the renowned character of the animated film, although they finally named it Pseudotherium argentinus. It was about 25 centimeters in length and was found in Ischigualasto with two of the oldest dinosaurs known to.

Pseudotherium argentinus'.
Pseudotherium argentinus’.

Dr. Ricardo Martínez, a researcher at the Institute and Museum of Natural Sciences of the University of San Juan (IMCN), told the Agency CTyS-UNLaM: «The new species has a very long and flat, shallow snout, and its fangs they are also very long and are located almost at the tip of the snout, so the resemblance is tremendous ».

The skull was kept surprisingly, so that, at first glance, the similarity can be verified. “At some point, I thought of calling it Scrat,” said Martinez, who conducted a very thorough study of this mamiferoid’s skull alongside Rachel Wallace and Timothy Rowe of the University of Texas. The study was recently published in the scientific journal Plos One.

It could be said that paleontologist Martínez, who has more than a dozen species discovered in his palmarès, has made a kind of paleontological hat-trick. Just as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo usually do triplets and take the ball home, Martinez did his own thing when he found this little animal with two new species of primitive dinosaurs. It is true, he did not take a ball home, but he took to the Museum the paws that paleontologists do to be able to move the fossils for later study.

Dr. Ricardo Martínez. Pseudotherium argentinus
Dr. Ricardo Martínez.

More than 230 million years had to wait for this little animal to be discovered. It was frozen in time, although not on ice like Scrat, but on the multicolored rocks of the famous Ischigualasto site located northwest of Argentina.

On this site, also known as the Valley of the Moon, this Triassic “Scrat” waited to be rescued next to the Panphagia Protos dinosaur, one of the oldest known sauropodomorphs known today, and to the femur of the first and only lagerpetid protodinosaurus discovered in San Juan. So three very different species shared their long stay until Martínez’s hat-trick in 2006, at which time their respective studies began.

Unlike the “squirrel” of the film, this mammiferous named Pseudotherium argentinus lived in a warmer environment than today, with an abundant flora, mostly made up of ferns and conifers, since there were no flowering plants.

Digging up Scrat. Pseudotherium argentinus
Digging up Scrat.

According to Martínez, this animal would have been about 25 centimeters in length and had a different diet than the character of the animated film created by Blue Sky Studios: «He did not feed on acorns, but surely ate smaller insects or animals» he asserted.

Since he did not need his saber teeth to open acorns, the IMCN paleontologist felt that his long fangs could have served him “on the one hand, to nail and trap insects or prey, but another option is that this animal has been a male and we are in the presence of sexual dimorphism, that is, that the males of this species had developed these great fangs as a way of attracting the females ».

“But, at this point, you can’t know much, because we only have one specimen,” Martínez said. He added: “If there were many individuals to analyze, one could see if there is variability and think that males and females had different lengths of fangs.”

Skull intact

Of these three individuals that Martínez found together, two could be nominated as new species. Meanwhile, the preservation of the skull was so good that a very detailed study of its internal structure could be carried out with a state-of-the-art scanner at the University of Texas.

Pseudotherium argentinus skull

Skull of the ‘Pseudotherium argentinus’, or Scrat.

Dr. Martínez commented that “until now, a mammal has not been found so advanced in Ischigualasto, in which the growth of the brain cavity, precursor of the great encephals of mammals is observed.”

«With these images, we could observe the developed inner ear, the loss of the postorbital bar, as well as the presence of the turbinals that are like partitions that allowed this animal to heat the air entering its respiratory system, which would indicate to us that he had hot blood ”, said the expert.

The Triassic Scrat and the Cretaceous Scrat

In 2011, researchers Guillermo Rougier, Sebastián Apesteguía and Leandro Gaetano unveiled an animal they named as Cronopio dentiacus, in tribute to Cortázar and alluding to the small size of this species that measured between 10 and 15 centimeters.

At that time, the researchers highlighted the similarities that this animal also had with Scrat and, in dialogue with the Agency CTyS-UNLaM, Dr. Apesteguía highlighted the imagination of the creators of the film who anticipated the existence of an animal with fangs of saber before such a species was known.

The surprising thing is that nature created “two Scrats” at very different times because while the Ischigualasto protomamiferous is 231 million years old, Cronopio was found in La Buitrera, a site located in Río Negro that is 95 years old millions of years.

Dr. Ricardo Martínez, mentioning the finding and investigation of Cronopio dentiacus and his Pseudotherium argentinus, joked: “It is as if we were reconstructing Phylogenetic ties of Scrat.”

Source: CTyS-UNLaM Agency

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