Jurassic Beaver Raises Fur
Another mammal has been found smack in the middle of the age of dinosaurs. Science reported the discovery of Castorocauda lutrasimilis, an aquatic mammal about 17” long, found in China and dated according to evolutionary reckoning to 164 million years old – some 40 million years older than the previous record holder (see also 04/01/2005 and 01/12/2005 finds). Though not a beaver (perhaps more like a platypus or echidna), it resembled beavers and otters in several ways, including having webbed feet and a flattened tail with various grades of real mammal fur. It’s name means “beavertailed otter-like” animal. The discoverers, Qiang Ji et al.,1 were amazed to find soft-tissue features, including webbing between toes, carbonized underfur and fur impressions. This pushes back the origin of fur by millions of years.
Thomas Martin put this find in context with other known mammal kin,2 and delineated the “unexpected diversity” of Jurassic and Cretaceous mammals. Not too long ago, TV documentaries were portraying even Cretaceous-era mammals as little shrew-size wimps scurrying underfoot the ruling dinosaurs. The aquatic adaptations of Castorocauda demonstrates that land mammals were already diverse and well-adapted to a wide variety of habitats. This implies that any common ancestor has to be pushed farther back in the evolutionary tale.
The story was picked up by MSNBC News, which said this fossil “overturns ideas about mammals’ lowly status in dinosaur era,” and by National Geographic, which said this “rewrites the history of mammals.” Finding fur and soft tissues on a mammal assumed this old clearly astonished all the reporters and experts.
1Ji et al., “A Swimming Mammaliaform from the Middle Jurassic and Ecomorphological Diversification of Early Mammals,” Science, 24 February 2006: Vol. 311. no. 5764, pp. 1123 – 1127, DOI: 10.1126/science.1123026.
2Thomas Martin, “Early Mammalian Evolutionary Experiments,” Science, 24 February 2006: Vol. 311. no. 5764, pp. 1109 – 1110, DOI: 10.1126/science.1124294.
How many anomalies like this is it going to take? This completely-unexpected find pushes the evolutionary ancestry tale and timeline to the breaking point. Imagine finding a good-sized, well-adapted, aquatic mammal way back in the mid-Jurassic. You didn’t see these in Jurassic Park. LiveScience and the other Charlie-worshipping news outlets expect us to believe that this pushes back the origin of aquatic mammals 100 million years. How can you believe that? This critter pops out of nowhere, goes extinct, and a hundred million years later, the Beav pops up out of nowhere? LieScience also claims this animal was not a monotreme or a beaver, but a close relative, and achieved its lifestyle adaptations by “convergent evolution”. When are people going to get sick and tired of these cop-out excuses?
Darwin defenders have long claimed that it would be easy to falsify evolution: just show a vertebrate in the Cambrian. So we did. Or find a mammal in the Cambrian. We’re getting close. There have been a steady stream of discoveries that have push advanced life-forms farther back in time (e.g., next story), meaning that mucho evolution had to take place in poco tiempo. At the other end, the Cambrian explosion (02/14/2006) with its sudden emergence of all the major body plans in the blink of a geologic eye has gotten tighter. These problems arise even assuming the geologic timetable. Now, mix in the discovery of flexible, soft tissues in as much as half the dinosaur bones found (see 02/22/2006) and the Darwin storytelling machine is pushing past the red line.
Adding to the crisis from another angle, consider the situation in planetary science. At a public lecture at JPL today, the speaker described the huge puzzle of supersonic winds on Venus (driven probably by active volcanoes), and the completely unexpected discovery of water geysers on Enceladus (see 11/28/2005) – impossible to maintain for billions of years. He had no answers. He stressed how baffling Enceladus is in particular, because scientists can’t invoke tidal flexing or any of the other tricks used to explain Io’s volcanoes. These are just two samples among a number of recent anomalies that have scientists scratching their heads and scrambling to explain things that, in an old solar system, simply cannot be.
These problems each stem from trusting in a timeline that is no longer plausible. Lyell, the lawyer, was wrong about his quasi-eternal, steady-state earth. Like the other Charlie, he is dead, and the ideas of both of them have outlived their 15 decades of fame. Let them rest in peace, and let’s move on. Who in the science community will be first to state the obvious? That fur is not 164 million years old, and neither are those blood vessels in the dinosaur bones, or those geysers on Enceladus. They look young because they are.