More than two years ago, an international team of researchers from Brazil, Argentina, and the U.S. uncovered the fossil of the oldest known mammal species to ever be found in Brazil.
This incredible discovery was only announced this year, on May 30, when the team published a study on their breakthrough, telling the world that they had chosen to name the newfound species Brasilestes stardusti, in honor of the late David Bowie.
As Science Daily explains, the oldest known mammal species in Brazil gets its name from Ziggy Stardust (pictured above), the artist’s iconic alter ego created for the 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
According to the media outlet, Bowie’s death on January 10, 2016, came a month after the precious fossil was found. The research team that made the discovery wanted to celebrate the artist’s work in a way that would forever be recorded in the annals of science — and that’s exactly what they achieved, notes Silicon Republic, which points out that Bowie’s name will live on not only through his artistic legacy, but also as Brazil’s oldest known mammal.
This ancient creature is highly significant in more ways than one. Although the connection to Bowie’s persona will surely make its discovery all the more memorable, Brasilestes stardusti has a lot going on for itself to be considered a special find.
How David Bowie invented Ziggy Stardust https://t.co/DVCmuFcXZM— Rolling Stone (@RollingStone) June 9, 2018
This prehistoric mammal lived in the late Mesozoic Era between 87 million and 70 million years ago, which makes it the first-ever mammal found in Brazil that roamed the Earth during the time of the dinosaurs.
The fossil was unearthed in the São Paulo state of Brazil, which is also highly important because no other Mesozoic mammal fossils have been discovered in this part of South America before.
In fact, until Brasilestes stardusti was found in a rocky outcrop in General Salgado at the end of 2015, the only evidence left behind by Mesozoic mammals in Brazil were 130-million-year-old footprints etched in the sandstone of São Paulo — once the Botucatu Desert in the center of the ancient supercontinent Gondwana.
As the Inquisitr previously reported, 400 million years ago the southern supercontinent Gondwana occupied the vast territory that is now made up of South America, Africa, India, Australia, and Antarctica. Meanwhile, the rest of the modern-day world, namely North America, Greenland, and Europe, was part of the northern supercontinent called Laurussia.
“The discovery of Brasilestes raises many more questions than answers about the biogeography of South American Mesozoic mammals. Thanks to Brasilestes, we’ve realized that the history of Gondwana’s mammals is more complex than we thought,” study lead author Max Langer, from the University of São Paulo in Brazil, said in a statement.
The ancient fossil, which only consists of an incomplete tooth — a lower premolar with missing roots that only measures 3.5 millimeters, or just over a tenth of an inch, notes International Business Times — is a rarity in itself.
As study co-author Mariela Cordeiro de Castro puts it, the fossil is “small but not tiny.”
“Although it’s only 3.5 mm, the Brasilestes tooth is three times bigger than all known Mesozoic mammal teeth. In the age of the dinosaurs, most mammals were the size of mice. Brasilestes was far larger, about the size of an opossum.”
The researchers believe that this prehistoric mammal belonged to a subclass called therians, which included both marsupials and placentals. While there isn’t enough evidence to officially assign the newfound species to either of the two groups, the team is inclined to believe that Brasilestes stardusti may have been a placental mammal.
If this turns out to be true, then this late Mesozoic fossil is one of a kind. The other marsupial and placental fossils that were discovered in South America in the past are not as old, dating from after the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction 66 million years ago that ended the reign of the dinosaurs.
According to the new study, featured in the journal Royal Society Open Science, the first Mesozoic mammal fossils ever to emerge from South America were discovered in Argentina some 40 years ago, but their teeth looked nothing like the Brasilestes stardusti fossil.
“Brasilestes is not just the first Brazilian Mesozoic mammal to be described but also one of the few Mesozoic mammals found in more central regions of South America. The Argentinian fossils were found in geological formations in Patagonia, the southern tip of the continent,” said Langer.
The only creature in the world’s fossil record that comes close to Brasilestes stardusti is Deccanolestes hislopi, a mammal that lived between 70 million and 66 million years ago and was found all the way across the planet, in India.
The similarity between this creature’s premolars and the Brasilestes stardusti fossil reveals that both mammals belong to the same lineage, which spread across the planet 100 million years ago when India started to break apart from the former Gondwana.