Show Details

Living Fossil Squirrel

August 17, 2016

Scientists search for an arboreal African rodent that’s changed little in over thirty million years.

Transcript

The second male specimen of Zenkerella insignis was found near the village of Ureca on Bioko, an island off the west coast of Africa. Steven Heritage

The second male specimen of Zenkerella insignis was found near the village of Ureca on Bioko, an island off the west coast of Africa. (Steven Heritage)

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Quest for a prehistoric squirrel. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Zenkerella isn’t a Pokémon: it’s a squirrel-like African rodent that’s never been seen alive by scientists. Recently, villagers on the African island of Bioko snared three zenkerellas and now, in the journal PeerJ, USC paleontologist Erik Seiffert and his colleagues report sequencing their DNA. Seiffert says the animals are living fossils, virtually unchanged from specimens seen in the fossil record.

ERIK SEIFFERT (University of Southern California):

So we can see that Zenkerella does have a unique genome that reflects that it has been evolving for a long time on its own, but it would appear that its anatomy hasn’t changed much at all in over thirty-one million years.

HIRSHON:

Living fossils like these help scientists understand mammalian evolution, and Seiffert is planning a trip to Africa, to try to find and study the elusive rodents.  I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Bob Hirshon

LEARN MORE