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Strands that stand the test of time.

Strands that stand the test ot time

In a candy bar or bowl of soup, the appearance of a piece of hair can be particularly unpleasant. But George Poinar Jr., an entomologist at the University of California at Berkeley, is thrilled by the tuft of animal hair he found encased in amber from the Dominican Republic. Dating back nearly 40 million years, this hair -- probably from a rodent--is the oldest evidence of land mammals in the Caribbean, and may help prove that the West Indies have supported a diverse animal population for tens of millions of years, he says. As a bonus, four flea-sized parasites also were preserved by the amber, which is a fossilized form of tree resin.

Previous evidence for land mammals in this region went back only 100,000 years, and scientiests have traditionally thought that most animals reached the islands only recently by swimming, flying or floating on debris. This new find, however, supports a rival theory that the West Indies were long ago attached to either North or South America, where animals roamed. Then the islands separated through plate tectonics and drifted to their present positions, carrying along an assortment of creatures isolated from the continent.
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Title Annotation:oldest evidence of Caribbean land mammals found encased in amber
Publication:Science News
Date:May 7, 1988
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