A hedgehog fossil, measuring just two inches in length, has been discovered in British Columbia in Canada. Found alongside the ancient artifact was a fossil of a tapir.
The hedgehog is believed to be the smallest specimen of its type ever uncovered. It likely ate plants, seeds and possibly small insects. The species inhabited a new world - most dinosaurs had been wiped out just 13 million years before the diminutive mammal lived.
Paleontologists believe the tiny hedgehog lived around 52 million years ago, in what is now Canada. Other fossils from that era have been unearthed in Wyoming and Colorado.
At that period in the history of the Earth, the climate in the area was much warmer than it is today. All over the globe, temperatures were significantly higher than normal during the early Eocene epoch.
Silvacola acares was previously unknown to scientists before it was uncovered in Driftwood Canyon. The name means "tiny forest dweller."
Heptodon, an ancient relative of the mighty tapir, was also discovered at the site. This species resembled a rhinoceros, with a short trunk and lacking a horn.
"Heptodon was about half the size of today's tapirs, and it lacked the short trunk that occurs on later species and their living cousins. Based upon its teeth, it was probably a leaf-eater, which fits nicely with the rainforest environment indicated by the fossil plants at Driftwood Canyon," Jaelyn Eberle from the University of Colorado said.
An ancient lake bed is home to many well-preserved fossils of both plants and animals. However, never before had paleontologists discovered mammals in the bedrock.
"The discovery in northern British Columbia of an early cousin to tapirs is intriguing because today's tapirs live in the tropics," Eberle told the press.
Seventeen species of hedgehogs are known to exist, living in Europe, Africa, Asia and New Zealand. They are typically between seven to nine inches in length when fully grown.
Tapirs can weigh as much as 650 pounds, and inhabit Central and South America, along with Southeast Asia. Some species stand over three feet tall at the shoulder.
Archeology at the site was sponsored by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
Discovery of the tiny hedgehog and the tapir was detailed in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.