the enigmatic Macrauchenia patachonica, an ungulate

© P. Schouten

This bizarre animal has just found its place in the tree of life

For centuries, the fossils of a strange mammal that roamed South America some tens of millions of years ago have puzzled scientists, including Charles Darwin, thanks to an unusual combination of features that make it look like a bulky, humpless camel. Now, a new study has used DNA to solve the riddle of where in the evolutionary tree the enigmatic Macrauchenia patachonica belongs, The Washington Post reports. Researchers analyzed mitochondrial DNA from a Macrauchenia fossil and found that the animal is closely related to a group of ungulates that includes horses, rhinos, and tapirs. The study, published in Nature Communications, suggests that Macrauchenia branched off from its sister ungulates about 66 million years ago, the same time as the mass extinction that killed off the dinosaurs.

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