Fossil of Earliest Sea Cow Ancestor Found in Tunisia

Posted on January 25, 2013

A fossil of the earliest known sea cow ancestor has been found in Tunisia. This ancient sea cow lived in fresh water. Only a partial fossil was found, but it was enough for researchers to link it to modern sea cows. Sea cows belong to the sirenia order of aquatic animals that consume aquatic plants. Sirenians include manatees and dugongs. Here is a BBC video of David Attenborough swimming with modern sea cows. Take a look:

Sea fossils of ancient sea cow ancestors have also been found in Jamaica, but the Tunisian sea cow fossil is older. The researchers, led by Julien Benoit from the University of Science and Technology in Montpellier, France, say the evolutionary origins of the sea cow have remained more obscure than that of whales and dolphins. The researchers also say that sea cows share an ancestor with elephants.

In the chart below, researchers put the newly discovered sea cow, dubbed Chambi sea cow (named for the ancient Lake Chambi), as being slightly older than the 48 million year old Pezosiren, a prehistoric sea cow relative that walked on land.

The research paper on the Chambi sea cow was published here in PLoS One.

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