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Underwater cave proves a treasure trove.

Lagerstatten--that word sends a shiver of excitement up and down the spine of every paleontologist. In German, the word means "storage place" or "deposits" but, in paleontology, it has come to mean a very rich fossil deposit that contains complete or nearly complete specimens that sample a wide variety of the creatures living at a certain time.

Lagerstatten are quite rare. Some of the more famous examples are the Burgess Shale in Canada, which preserves soft body outlines of 530,000,000-year-old Cambrian animals; the Jurassic Solenhofen limestones in Germany, where the famous Archaeopteryx is found; and the middle Eocene Messel Oil Shale in Germany, which preserves whole skeletons of many birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and insects.

The latest and most exciting Lagerstatten is the discovery of subfossils at Aven Cave in Madagascar's Tsimanampetsotsa National Park. It was known to local people, but not reported to the scientific community until an Australian cave diver saw it. The cave and its specimens are underwater. The specimens are called subfossils, because they are not old enough to have completed (or in some cases even started) the fossilization process.

A joint team from the University of Antananarivo, Madagascar; Duke University, Durham, N.C.; University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Brooklyn (N.Y.) College; and Midwestern University, Downers Grove, III., led an expedition to this cave site in October 2014.

Only a preliminary survey has been made to date, but it already is clear that it is one of the richest subfossil sites ever discovered in Madagascar. The initial list of animal specimens found in the cave includes three genera of extinct lemurs (Pachylemur, Mesopropithecus, and Megaladapis) as well as one species of a living form, Lemur catta, the familiar ring-tailed lemur. In addition to the primates, there are abundant specimens of bats (Hipposideros), carnivores (the extinct fossa Cryptoprocta spelea as well as a smaller, still living species, C. ferox), two species of rodents, an extinct pygmy hippopotamus, crocodiles, turtles, and two bird species (including the extinct elephant bird Mullerornis).

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Title Annotation:Paleontology
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Jun 1, 2015
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