The first ever pangolin in Europe dating back to the Pleistocene Epoch has been discovered. It is the youngest that has ever been found in addition to being a completely new species.
A humerus bone was unearthed at a rich fossil deposit called Grăunceanu which is located in the Olteţ River Valley of Romania. Grăunceanu and additional sites in Olteţ have been the focus of an international team of researchers for about the last decade. The sites were revealed by landslides that occurred back in the 1960s. Some of the fossils found there over the years include a short-necked giraffe, large terrestrial monkey, saber-toothed cats, and rhinoceroses. And of course, this new pangolin species.
Detailed analysis of a humerus bone revealed that it belonged to a new pangolin species that has been named Smutsia olteniensis. It dates back between 2.2 and 1.9 million years ago during the Pleistocene Epoch. It was previously believed that pangolins left Europe around 10 million years ago during the middle part of the Miocene Epoch in order to travel to warmer climates. However, this new discovery has debunked that theory as pangolins were in fact still in Europe for many millions of years.
Claire Terhune, who is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Arkansas, noted, “What's especially exciting is that although some work in the 1930s suggested the presence of pangolins in Europe during the Pleistocene, those fossils had been lost, and other researchers doubted their validity,” adding, “Now we know for sure that pangolins were present in Europe around at least 2 million years ago.”
She went on to describe the bone, “It's not a fancy fossil.” “It's just a single bone, but it is a new species of a kind of a weird animal. We're proud of it because the fossil record for pangolins is extremely sparse. This one happens to be the youngest pangolin ever discovered from Europe and the only pangolin fossil from Pleistocene Europe.” (A picture of the bone can be seen here.)
The now-extinct Smutsia olteniensis shared some similarities with modern members of the Smutsia genus that currently live in Africa. Modern pangolins inhabit Africa and Asia. They are described as being scaly anteaters that slightly resemble armadillos that inhabit in the southern part of the United States. Even though they are full of scales, they are not reptiles and are instead categorized as mammals with close relations to carnivores.
The study was published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology where it can be read in full.