Hispanomeryx, also in the Chinese Miocene

11 Apr 2012
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Image of an extant mochid.

Image of a pair of extant moschids, by Sir William Jardine in 1835. In the drawing, the dagger-shaped upper canines, a characteristic of the Moschus genus, are observed.


Hispanomeryx andrewsi is the new extinct species of musk deer of the Middle Miocene,  described from fossils of the historical collections of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), collected in excavations in China, Tunggur Formation, in the 1930's. The study, published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology in November 2011, is signed by different researchers at the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid and Daniel DeMiguel, researcher at the ICP.

The moschids, or musk deers, are a family of unarmed ruminants  (no cranial appendages) now reduced to the genus Moschus – from which seven species known- with presence in various Asian countries. However, the oldest fossils of the family, Hispanomeryx and Micromeryx, were only known in the European Miocene. For Hispanomeryx, three specieshave been described so far, all from fossil deposits recovered in the Iberian Peninsula.

The article 'The first Known Asian Hispanomeryx (Mammalia, Rumimanta, Moschidae)', however, sheds light on fossils recovered by AMNH researchers nearly a century ago, which are a key element in the study of the dispersal and evolution of this genus. The fossil remains belong to different elements of the teeth of several individuals and a first phalanx, all found in the Wolf Camp site in the region of Mongolia (China), excavated in 1930 by paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews. The new species Hispanomeryx andrewsi, which lived about 12 million years ago in China, has been named in honor of this paleontologist. Chapan led the expeditions to the Gobi Desert where the famous dinosaur fossils were found.

This work also includes a phylogenetic study of this genus, which would place the new species H. andrewsi as an intermediate form between H. daamsi and H. aragonensis, both endemic species from the Iberian Peninsula. This shows that moschids had dispersed across Eurasia before its extinction in Europe, about 8 million years ago.

Image of the fossil remains of Hispanomeryx andrewsi.

Fossil remains of Hispanomeryx andrewsi from the AMNH collections.

Rediscovering the classic collections

As researcher Daniel DeMiguel says AMNH collections never cease to amaze, both for its outstanding exhibitions, open to the general public, and for the collections with an exclusive access to researchers. Team members found a few remains of an unpublished moschid abandoned in a drawer. Their dental morphology was very different from those that had been established so far for different species Hispanomeryx. This made us "dusting" the remains to be studied in detail. The finding has been so important that shows that gender was also present in Asia, and had a great evolutionary success perhaps because of this unexpected plasticity in the dentition. I have no doubt that many surprises are waiting to be "discovered" in the (almost forgotten) classical collections of museums like the AMNH. "

+ info Sánchez, I. M., DeMiguel, D., Quiralte, V. & Morales,J. (2011). The first known Asian Hispanomeryx (Mammalia, Ruminantia, Moschidae). Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 31(6): 1397-1403.


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