March Mammal Madness: Enter Our "Name Your Ancestor" Tournament

by AMNH on

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This month, a team of international researchers led by the American Museum of Natural History and Stony Brook University determined in unprecedented detail what the earliest ancestor of placental mammals—the widely diverse group of animals ranging from whales to bats to humans—looked like.

The small, furry-tailed, insect-eating creature pictured here was rendered based on information gleaned from the world’s largest dataset of genetic and physical traits, collected with the help of a cloud-based and publicly accessible database called MorphoBank.

Morphobank common ancestor
An artist’s rendering of the hypothetical placental ancestor, a small insect-eating animal.
Carl Buell

But because there’s no fossil specimen for this hypothetical animal, it does not have a scientific name. It can, however, have a nickname—and that’s where you come in.

The Museum is teaming up with WNYC’s Radiolab to name our ancestor. Send us your best suggestions by tweeting with the hashtag #nameyourancestor or by sending an email to [email protected]. The deadline for sending your suggestions is Tuesday, March 5. Send as many as you like!

We will narrow down the entries down and put them into a NCAA-style bracket that will be voted on through single-elimination rounds. The winner of this “March Mammal Madness” tournament will receive a print of the illustration signed by some of the study’s scientists as well as tickets to the Museum.

A couple of things to consider before you submit a name:

  • The common ancestor is a species and contains both males and females.
  • Because there is no fossil specimen associated with the common ancestor, please avoid giving it a Linnaean, or scientific, name. For example, the Linnaean name of human beings is Homo sapiens.

Please check back here and at Radiolab after Tuesday, March 5, for a head-to-head matchup of the top name suggestions.