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Prehistoric tropical mammals found in British Columbia

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A new species of hedgehog and an ancient relative of tapirs have been discovered in the Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park area of what is now known as British Columbia. Dr. Natalia Rybczynski of the Canadian Museum of Nature, Dr. Jaelyn Eberle of the University of Colorado, and colleagues discovered the first mammals from the Eocene Epoch in British Columbia. The discovery was reported in the July 8, 2014, edition of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

The two animals lived after the age of the dinosaurs between 50 million years ago and 53 million years ago. During this period of time the climate in parts of Canada has been postulated as being tropical or temperate based on some fossil evidence. The new discovery extends the range of tropical climate in Canada to British Columbia.

The hedgehog was named Silvacola acares (tiny forest dweller) due to the animal’s size. The hedgehog was only two inches to two and one-half inches long. The jaw and teeth that are used to define an animal as a hedgehog were left in the rock that the hedgehog was found in. CT-scans were used to magnify and elucidate the fossil remains.

The tapir was about one-half the size of modern tapirs. The teeth of the tapir show a pattern that is similar to both ancient and modern plant eaters. This fact lends support to the assumption that the animals lived in a tropical environment that was lush with vegetation.

No hedgehogs or tapirs live anywhere in Canada at present. Hedge hogs can be found in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Tapirs are found mostly in South America. The discovery of new fossils that give all evidence of having lived in a tropical or moderate climate agrees with theory that the Earth’s climate changed frequently in ancient times. The discovery of tropical animals from the Eocene Epoch is considered to be confirmation of the theories and is the first such discovery in British Columbia.