When Messel Pit was located at the present latitude of Sicily, it was home to a very special fauna, including the primeval horse and the ancestors of today’s birds. 47 million years ago Messel was covered by dense primeval forests with warm, wet climate. Surveys by the Senckenberg Research Institute carries out in the Messel Pit, a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site, have discovered about 3,000 fossil remains, including some beautiful and interesting animals:
A reptile about 80 centimetres long, the bulldog of the lizard world, closely related to the Gila monsters (Helodermatidae), a family found today just in southwestern USA and Central America. These lizards are renowned by being venomous.
Jewel beetles of the family Buprestidae, whose living representatives can now only be found in the Tropics. “The exquisite coloration is created by refraction at different layers of the chitin carapace,” explains Dr. Sonja Wedmann.
A rodent of the genus Masillamys recovered nearly whole, allowing identification of the fossilised remains of its stomach contents. The extremely well-preserved outlines of the body reveals this ancient rodent had a thick, short-haired coat of fur. The short legs typical of the genus suggest it once lived on the floor of the primeval forest surrounding Messel.
Among the mammals found, the famous Leptictidium auderiense, star among the Messel fossils thanks to the BBC documentary "Walking with Beasts". Leptictidium had a highly specialised locomotor system. Its extraordinarily long tail with 40 vertebrae, long back legs and reduced front ones point to a bipedal gait.
Fossil of Leptictidium (Wikipedia)
Leptictidium as reconstructed in BBC documentary "Walking with Beasts".
Among the total of 6,773 finds recovered at Messel Pit in 2007 and 2008, there were 1,929 fossilised remains of vertebrates, 1,403 insects and 3,441 plant remains. The information contained in the finds provide the scientists of the Senckenberg Research Institute data on the occurrence of individual species, their bodily structures and lifestyles, and the evolutionary history of animal groups. In addition, the research results help to reconstruct the Eocene environment and give clues to the relationship between climate and biodiversity.
Based on information provided by the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum, to whom credit for all images goes to.
Full news at Discovery Channel: http://blogs.discovery.com/news_animal/2009/08/prehistoric-gila-monster-furrycoated-rodent-and-more-unearthed.html