Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Mesozoic marsupial from Maastricht

For such a spectacular find the NHMM isn't giving us much to go on. Just a tiny, tiny tooth and a small reconstruction. No explanatory text, labels or anything. 
Good thing I came prepared. I had brought "De Nederlandse Dino" with me so I could finish it on my two hour train ride. As it happens the last chapters are on other Cretaceous finds, like this critter.

It's a really tiny tooth.
That black speck.. that's it.

The label clearly isn't much help here. The tooth is simply labelled 'mammal tooth' and the rat-like thing besides it doesn't even get it's own label. You might be surprised to hear it's from the Cretaceous. Good thing I read the chapter on this critter beforehand.

It's not a rat, it's a marsupial
Maybe it's just an odd rat?

It's not a rat, it's Maastrichtidelphys meurismeti. A Cretaceous mammal that was more like a small opossum. In fact it's name means as much as "opossum from Maastricht". This is actually quite a big deal, as it is the only known marsupial from the Mesozoic of Europe.
Interestingly it must have crossed an ocean to get here, and even though the ocean was much smaller than it is now we can safely assume it didn't swim across.

Found in the Netherlands
All this fuss about something this small?

I found this display super-exciting, but only because I'd read up ahead of time. 
Otherwise I would have wondered momentarily what it was doing next to a dinosaur, and moved on. 
Definitely a missed opportunity to showcase some cool science, because it takes some effort to get from a tooth to a full reconstruction. And maybe even some exciting speculation about a possible Cretaceous landbridge between Europe and America.