London, Jan 6: If a new study is to be believed, tigers and lions once knew how to climb, and live on, trees.
New fossils found in Belgium suggest that the ancestors of lions, tigers, dogs and other carnivorous mammals of ‘carnivoraforms’ family were ‘arboreal’ – they lived and moved through trees nearly 55 million years ago.
The researchers found specimens of dormaalocyon latouri – a species belonging to ‘carnivoraforms’ family – that included over 250 teeth and ankle bones.
“The ankle bones suggest that dormaalocyon was an arboreal, living and moving through the trees,” said lead author FlorÃ©al SolÃ© of National Museum of Natural History in France.
The species, dubbed Dormaalocyon latouri, had previously been found at the Belgian locality of Dormaal — thus the name of the genus.
The findings even included the deciduous teeth (or baby teeth).
“The fact that these teeth are very primitive looking and from a very early time implies that dormaalocyon is close to the origin of carnivoraforms,” said the study published in the Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology.
“The understanding of the origination of the carnivoraforms is important for reconstructing the adaptation of placental mammals to carnivorous diet,” said Sole.
“Therefore, dormaalocyon provides information concerning the evolution of placental mammals after the disappearance of the largest dinosaurs.”
Previous reconstructions of the environment at Dormaal 55 million years ago inferred a warm, humid and wooded area. This was a time soon after an event called the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (or PETM).
This extremely warm period affected the evolution of many mammal groups, including carnivoraforms.
“The fact that dormaalocyon was ‘arboreal’ and that carnivoraforms made their way to North America around this time, supports the existence of a continuous evergreen forest belt at high latitudes during the PETM,” the study said.