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At present, pangolins (or scaly anteaters) are represented by three genera, differing in their geographic distribution and locomotor adaptations.
The asian pangolins are included in the genus Manis, while the Africans they are included in Smutsia (ground pangolins) and Phataginus (arboreal pangolins). But during the Eocene (more than 33 million years ago), pangolins ranged from Asia to North America.
In the Miocene they were found exclusively in Europe, where they were represented by the extinct genus Necromanis, of uncertain relationships with current species.
In Europe, different species of this genus have been identified during the Oligocene (more than 23 million years ago) and the Miocene (between 23 and 5 million years ago), generally represented by fragmentary fossil remains.
Now, David M. Alba, director of the Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont (ICP), together with other researchers, have described a pangolin femur from 16 million years ago attributed to Necromanis, which represents the only known record of this group in the Iberian Peninsula, and which is much better preserved than previously known femurs of this genus.
Surprisingly, the femur was excavated several decades ago in the Can Cerdà site, and it was mentioned for the first time in a writing by Miquel Crusafont in 1975. But the material was never drawn or described, and apparently it was forgotten.
The presence of fossil pangolins in the Iberian Peninsula it has thus been omitted from all articles published on this group for more than 20 years. The research has now been published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
Alba discovered the existence of the specimen from the Crusafont texts and it was relatively easy to locate it among the ICP collections.
“It is not uncommon for researchers to recover extraordinary fossils in museum drawers and cupboards; However, it is very rare to discover fossils from the collections of the institution when reading the literature published 40 years ago.”, Explains the researcher.
The Can Cerdà femur it resembles that of Necromanis and other extinct pangolins because it is more primitive than that of the current representatives of the group.
The presence of a small depression in the head of the femur or a well-developed third trochanter protruding from the bony axis are a sample of these primitive characters.
It is not clear if the small differences that the fossil shows in relation to other Necromanis femurs simply reflect normal variation between individuals of the same species or if they are different species. Given the scarcity of remains available, the specimen is tentatively assigned to Necromanis cf. franconica, which had already been described during the Miocene in France and Germany.
The Can Cerdà site It was a clay quarry located near the farmhouse with the same name, in the municipality of El Papiol. Unfortunately, the site no longer exists, so it is not possible to search for new remains.
However, the ongoing paleontological research by the research group of Neogene and Quaternary Faunas of the ICP in the Miocene of the Vallès-Penedès basin it will contribute to additional surprising discoveries in the years to come.
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