Johannesburg: Scientists have discovered a two million-year-old fossil of a previously unknown species of fox at the archaeological site of Malapa in South Africa.
Researchers from Wits University, the University of Johannesburg and international scientists discovered the previously unknown species of fox called Vulpes Skinneri - named after a recently deceased renowned South African mammalogist and ecologist, Professor John Skinner of the University of Pretoria.
The new fox fossils consist of a mandible and parts of the skeleton and can be distinguished from any living or extinct form of fox known to science based on proportions of its teeth and other aspects of its anatomy.
"It`s exciting to see a new fossil fox. The ancestry of foxes is perhaps the most poorly known among African carnivores and to see a potential ancestral form of living foxes is wonderful," said Dr Brian Kuhn of Wits` Institute for Human Evolution (IHE) and the School of GeoSciences, an author on the paper and head of the Malapa carnivore studies.
"Malapa continues to reveal this extraordinary record of past life and as important as the human ancestors are from the site, the site`s contribution to our understanding of the evolution of modern African mammals through wonderful specimens like this fox is of equal import. Who knows what we will find next?," Professor Lee Berger, also of the IHE and School of GeoSciences, author on the paper and Director of the Malapa project said in a statement.
The site of Malapa has, since its discovery in 2008, yielded one of the most extraordinary fossil assemblages in the African record, including skeletons of a new species of human ancestor named Australopithecus sediba, first described in 2010.