Pleistocene, approx. size 22cm, X 11cm weight, 320g, ROMANIA
The cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) was a species of bear that lived in Europe during the Pleistocene and became extinct at the beginning of the Last Glacial Maximum, about 27,500 years ago.
Both the name “cave” and the scientific name Spelaeus derive from the fact that fossils of this species were mostly found in caves, indicating this species spent more time in caves than the brown bear, which only uses caves for hibernation. Consequently, in the course of time, whole layers of bones, almost entire skeletons, were found in many caves.
The evolution of mammals has passed through many stages since the first appearance of theirsynapsid ancestors in the late Carboniferous period. The most ancestral forms in the class Mammalia are the egg-laying mammals in the subclass Prototheria. By the mid-Triassic, there were many synapsid species that looked like mammals. The lineage leading to today’s mammals split up in the Jurassic; synapsids from this period include Dryolestes, more closely related to extant placentals and marsupials than to monotremes, as well as Ambondro, more closely related to monotremes. Later on, the eutherian and metatherian lineages separated; the metatherians are the animals more closely related to the marsupials, while the eutherians are those more closely related to the placentals. Since Juramaia, the earliest known eutherian, lived 160 million years ago in the Jurassic, this divergence must have occurred in the same period.
After the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event wiped out the non-avian dinosaurs (birdsare generally regarded as the surviving dinosaurs) and several mammalian groups, placental and marsupial mammals diversified into many new forms and ecological niches throughout the Paleogene and Neogene, by the end of which all modern orders had appeared.
Mammals are the only living synapsids. The synapsid lineage became distinct from thesauropsid lineage in the late Carboniferous period, between 320 and 315 million years ago. The sauropsids are today’s reptiles and birds along with all the extinct animals more closely related to them than to mammals. This does not include the mammal-like reptiles, a group more closely related to the mammals.
Throughout the Permian period, the synapsids included the dominant carnivores and several important herbivores. In the subsequent Triassic period, however, a previously obscure group of sauropsids, the archosaurs, became the dominant vertebrates. Themammaliaforms appeared during this period; their superior sense of smell, backed up by a large brain, facilitated entry into nocturnal niches with less exposure to archosaur predation. The nocturnal lifestyle may have contributed greatly to the development of mammalian traits such as endothermy and hair. Later in the Mesozoic, after theropod dinosaurs replaced rauisuchians as the dominant carnivores, mammals spread into other ecological niches. For example, some became aquatic, some were gliders, and some even fed on juvenile dinosaurs.
Most of the evidence consists of fossils. For many years, fossils of Mesozoic mammals and their immediate ancestors were very rare and fragmentary; but, since the mid-1990s, there have been many important new finds, especially in China. The relatively new techniques ofmolecular phylogenetics have also shed light on some aspects of mammalian evolution by estimating the timing of important divergence points for modern species. When used carefully, these techniques often, but not always, agree with the fossil record.
Although mammary glands are a signature feature of modern mammals, little is known about the evolution of lactation as these soft tissues are not often preserved in the fossil record. Most research concerning the evolution of mammals centers on the shapes of the teeth, the hardest parts of the tetrapod body. Other important research characteristics include the evolution of the middle ear bones, erect limb posture, a bony secondary palate, fur, hair, and warm-bloodedness.