A furry, squirrel-sized creature that soared through prehistoric skies–possibly even sharing the lofty view with birds' first ancestors–suggests that mammals took flight nearly 70 million years earlier than scientists had thought.
The evidence comes in the form of a squashed skeleton found in Inner Mongolia that belonged to a tree-inhabiting creature born with a built-in hang glider–a fold of furry skin that stretched between its front and hind legs.
This news item sent me Googling around to chase down an old, old memory from college: a professor of evolution who did an extremely funny and effective impression of a flying squirrel getting ready to hop off a branch and glide. I still remember how he popped his head up and down and spread his professorial tweed jacket in a perky little "gonna fly now" mammalian display.
It was a full-year class which fulfilled part of the science requirements. I stayed on for the whole year, because he was not only amusing and a good instructor, but his wife made him bring donuts and coffee to final exams, as we were an early morning class. His affection for flying squirrels was so great that he and a number of other grad students dressed up as furry gliders for Halloween when he was younger, and that was why he described the costumes and exhibited the behavior for our class one chilly October morning 30 years ago.
To my delight, Prof. William Bradshaw is still at the University of Oregon, which has its own ecology and evolutionary development department now. He seems to have been using mosquitoes for most of his research all this time with his partner… although I'm sure he's pretty happy about this new "furry glider" evolutionary discovery, I bet he does a mean mosquito impression, too.