University of Florida scientists have discovered two extinct camel species in Panama.
The ancient camels, named Aguascalietia panamaensis and Aguascalientia minuta, are the oldest mammals to have been found in Panama, a University of Florida release reported on Wednesday.
“Some descriptions say these are ‘crocodile-like’ camels because they have more elongated snouts than you would expect,” Aldo Rincon, lead author of the study, said. “They were probably browsers in the forests of the ancient tropics. We can say that because the crowns are really short.”
Their discovery extends the distribution of mammals to their southernmost point in the ancient tropics of Central America.
“The family originated about 30 million years ago and they’re found widespread throughout North America, but prior to this discovery, they were unknown south of Mexico,” said Bruce MacFadden, co-author of the study.
Funded by a $3.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the research team is working with the Panama Canal Authority and scientists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute to conduct excavations during a five-year window of opportunity created by the Panama Canal expansion that began in 2009.
In somewhat related news, in 1851, a herd of camels was imported to Panama as beasts of burden which were no more effective than the mules and horses already in use.
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