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Fossils of New Fox Species Unearthed in South Africa

Jan 24, 2013 03:38 AM EST

Archeologists have unearthed fossils of a previously unknown fox species (image) in South Africa.

The new fox species is named Vulpes Skinneri after the world-renowned South African ecologist, John Skinner. Vulpes Skinneri, which is believed to be two million years old, was discovered at Malapa, situated within the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site.

Malapa is one of the archeological sites that have yielded extraordinary fossils in the African record. The discovery of a new human ancestor species, named Australopithecus sediba, at Malapa in 2008 is considered as one of the most remarkable discoveries in the history of human evolution.

Vulpes Skinneri is the second new species discovered at the same site since 2008. The new fox species consists of the mandible and parts of the skeleton. Based on proportions of its teeth and other aspects of its anatomy, scientists were able to differentiate the fossils from other living or extinct fox species.

"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," study author Brian Kuhn, of Wits' Institute for Human Evolution (IHE) and the School of GeoSciences, said in a statement.

Fossils of more than 80 species of animals have so far been unearthed at Malapa since the site's discovery. The specimens recovered have all been well preserved and are in good shape. This has led Kahn to speculate that Malapa could have been a "death trap" for unsuspecting animals that might have plunged to their demise, reports Agence France-Presse news agency.

Scientists hope they can find more such interesting and ground-breaking discoveries in future at the Malapa site.

The findings of the study appear in the journal of Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa.

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