A Carboniferous-period fossil discovered in Nova Scotia, Canada, shows an ancient animal called a varanopid synapsid (family Varanopidae) caring for its young.
An artist’s impression of an adult and a juvenile Dendromaia unamakiensis Image credit: Henry Sharpe.
” Parental care is a behavioral method where moms and dads make an investment or divert resources from themselves to increase the health and chances of survival for their offspring,” said paleontologist Professor Hillary Maddin and her coworkers from Carleton University and Fundy Treasures.
” While there are a range of parental care strategies, prolonged postnatal care is among the most expensive to a moms and dad.”
” This kind of parental care is especially common in mammals, as all mammalian offspring need nutrition from their mothers.”
” Nevertheless, there is still little understanding of the evolutionary history of this behavior.”
The 305- million-year-old specimen of Dendromaia unamakiensis Image credit: Maddin et al, doi: 10.1038/ s41559-019-1030- z.
Teacher Maddin’s group found the fossilized remains of an adult animal and an associated juvenile inside a lithified tree stump on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.
The specimen represents not just a new types but also belongs to a totally new genus of varanopid synapsid.
The researchers named the ancient animal Dendromaia unamakiensis
” This is the earliest evidence of prolonged postnatal care in a vertebrate,” Professor Maddin said.
” The adult animal seems concealing and safeguarding a juvenile in a den. This behavior is extremely common in mammals today.”
” It is interesting to see this animal, which is on the evolutionary line leading to mammals, displaying this habits so early.”
The discovery is reported in a paper in the journal Nature Ecology & Development
H.C. Maddin et al2020 Varanopid from the Carboniferous of Nova Scotia exposes proof of parental care in amniotes. Nat Ecol Evol 4: 50-56; doi: 10.1038/ s41559-019-1030- z