A Mesozoic gliding mammal from northeastern China

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  • A Corrigendum to this article was published on 01 March 2007

Abstract

Gliding flight has independently evolved many times in vertebrates. Direct evidence of gliding is rare in fossil records and is unknown in mammals from the Mesozoic era. Here we report a new Mesozoic mammal from Inner Mongolia, China, that represents a previously unknown group characterized by a highly specialized insectivorous dentition and a sizable patagium (flying membrane) for gliding flight. The patagium is covered with dense hair and supported by an elongated tail and limbs; the latter also bear many features adapted for arboreal life. This discovery extends the earliest record of gliding flight for mammals to at least 70 million years earlier in geological history, and demonstrates that early mammals were diverse in their locomotor strategies and lifestyles; they had experimented with an aerial habit at about the same time as, if not earlier than, when birds endeavoured to exploit the sky.

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Figure 1: Volaticotherium antiquus gen. et sp. nov.
Figure 2: Phylogenetic relationships of major Mesozoic mammalian groups, including Volaticotherium antiquus.
Figure 3: Detailed features related to gliding and arboreal locomotion of Volaticotherium antiquus.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Z. Zhou, F. Zhang, X. Xu, Y. Wang, F. Jin, and J. Zhang for help in coordinating the research and fieldwork; S. Xie for specimen preparation; M. Yang for drawing Supplementary Fig. 13; and L. Meeker for X-radiography. The research has been funded by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the National Natural Science Foundation of China; and Major Basic Research Projects of the Ministry of Science and Technology, China. The research of Y.H. is also supported by a fellowship from the American Museum of Natural History, New York.

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Correspondence to Jin Meng or Yaoming Hu.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Notes

This file contains details on the following: A, Preservation of the specimen. B, Age of the Daohugou Beds. C, Comparative description. D, Notes on Limb Measurements. E, Character list and data matrix. F, Phylogenetic analysis. (DOC 606 kb)

Supplementary Figures 1

This file contains Supplementary Figures 1–5. (DOC 3310 kb)

Supplementary Figures 2

This file contains Supplementary Figures 6–13. (DOC 4029 kb)

Supplementary Tables

This file contains Supplementary Tables 1–7. (DOC 54 kb)

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Meng, J., Hu, Y., Wang, Y. et al. A Mesozoic gliding mammal from northeastern China. Nature 444, 889–893 (2006) doi:10.1038/nature05234

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