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Mini hedgehog, tiny tapir fossils found in Canada

by Will Dunham

Reuters

You’ve heard of Sonic the Hedgehog, the video game character. But how about the half-pint hedgehog, the tiniest one that ever lived?

Scientists on July 8 described fossils from Canada of a hedgehog the size of a shrew — about 5 cm long — that lived 52 million years ago in a rainforest in northern British Columbia during an especially warm time on Earth.

The creature, Silvacola acares, lived roughly 13 million years after an asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs and left the mammals as the dominant land animals. About the length of a person’s thumb, it ate insects, plants and maybe seeds, the researchers said.

“We were surprised by its tiny size, and frankly it threw me for a while and made it difficult to identify,” said University of Colorado paleontologist Jaelyn Eberle.

Its scientific name means “tiny forest dweller.”

“Today’s hedgehogs, and especially the ones that are kept as pets, are considerably larger. The smallest living hedgehogs are about 10 to 15 cm long, not including the tail,” Eberle said,

Hedgehogs are known for the quills they use to protect themselves. The fossils were not complete enough to show whether or not Silvacola possessed quills.

The researchers described another interesting mammal called Heptodon found at the same site, Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park.

It was a tapirlike creature about as big as a medium-sized dog. It was a herbivore about half the size of today’s tapirs but lacking the short trunk usually seen in these mammals.