Scientists have discovered the fossils of the world’s smallest hedgehog at Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park in Canada. This hedgehog measured just two inches (5 cm) and lived about 52 million years ago in the region we know today as British Columbia. The tiny creature lived during a warm time of Eocene Epoch in a rainforest.
The hedgehog had the size of your thumb
Scientists have named it Silvacola acares, which means “tiny forest dweller.” It lived about 13 million years after dinosaurs were wiped out from Earth by an asteroid about 65 million years ago. S. acares was no bigger than a person’s thumb, and survived by eating plants, insects and seeds, researchers said.
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Jaelyn Eberle, a paleontologist at the University of Colorado and lead author of the study, said she was surprised by its small size. Tiny size of the hedgehog fossil also made it difficult for researchers to identify it. Today’s hedgehogs are much bigger. Eberle said the smallest living hedgehog is about 4-6 inches long. And their close cousin moonrats are more than 18 inches long and weigh several pounds.
Hedgehogs have protective quills. But in this case, the fossils were not enough to help scientists figure out whether Silvacola had quills. Eberle said ancient hedgehogs living in Europe around the same time possessed bristly hair. So, Silvacola may have had quills as well. Rather than removing fossils of the delicate upper jaw from the surrounding rock, researchers examined it with a high-resolution industrial CT scanner to avoid damaging its cheek teeth.
Modern hedgehogs live in Europe, Asia and Africa
The most primitive known members of the hedgehog family lived about 58 million years ago. Today, hedgehogs and moonrats live mostly in Asia, Africa and Europe. Researchers also found another mammal called Heptodon at the same site. This tapir-like creature had the size of a dog. Heptodon lacked the short trunk found in most tapirs, and it was a herbivore.
The trunk-less tapir and the 2-inch hedgehog lived along the edges of a lake. That area was more like an upland rainforest, and its climate resembled the modern-day Portland, Oregon, which is about 700 miles south of where these fossils were found.
The study was published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.