Zalambdalestes (Greek for "V-shaped thief"); pronounced ZAH-lam-da-LESS-tease
Woodlands of central Asia
Late Cretaceous (80-70 million years ago)
Size and Weight:
About 8 inches long and a few ounces
Long, narrow snout and tail; rodent-like teeth
Unlike other Mesozoic mammals, which lived high up in trees to stay out of the way of tyrannosaurs and raptors, the late Cretaceous Zalambdalestes appears to have been built for life on the ground: this critter's strong paws and narrow snout point to it being a habitual burrower, both to locate its insect meals and to hide from larger predators. The general appearance of Zalambdalestes, as well as the shape of its teeth, have led some paleontologists to conclude that it was directly ancestral to modern rodents and rabbits, but not everyone agrees. In any case, Zalambdalestes almost certainly occupies a place on the evolutionary branch connecting the earliest mammals with modern humans.