Afrotheria: Unexpected Relatives!
These animals are all members of the same mammal lineage, the Afrotheria. With about 80 extremely varied species, this group includes such unlikely companions as the tiny elephant shrews and the world’s largest land mammal, the elephants.
However, in-depth DNA analyses show that these animals are all of the descendants of a single common ancestor. So, even though the golden mole looks very much like a mole, and has a similar subterranean lifestyle, it is more closely related to the aardvark!
While scientists agree that the Afrotheria evolved in Africa (unlike some African mammals, such as lions and zebras, which originated elsewhere), there is debate as to exactly when. Some evidence suggests that it was as far back as 100 million years ago in the Cretaceous Period, while other studies indicate that it may have been around the time that the non-avian dinosaurs became extinct, some 65 million years ago.
The Afrotheria Tree
Phylogenetic relationships among the different animals that make up the Afrotheria have been vigorously debated, and are currently the subject of a major international research effort. Here we present a current hypothesis that is being tested using additional molecular and morphological evidence: