LAWRENCE — Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Denver Museum of Nature & Science recently have published a description of a fossilized 50-million-year-old insect-eating mammal, about the size of a shrew or small hedgehog, naming it Nyctitherium krishtalkai after Leonard Krishtalka, director of the Biodiversity Institute at the University of Kansas.
“I named it after Krishtalka because of his mentoring in the early stages of my career and for his research on the group of fossil mammals to which it belongs,” said Richard Stucky, curator of Paleoecology and Evolution at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.
In addition to his role at the Biodiversity Institute, Krishtalka serves as a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at KU, holding both positions since 1995.
His paleontological research encompassed the evolution of mammals, with field expeditions throughout western Canada and the U.S., Europe, north and east Africa and China.
Krishtalka is the author of about 200 research articles, policy papers and popular pieces in scientific journals, books, newspapers and magazines, as well as one book, “Dinosaur Plots & Other Intrigues in Natural History.” He writes an irregular op-ed column for the Lawrence Journal-World and he is currently completing the third novel in a trilogy of mysteries.
“I’m very honored to have a new species discovered by science named for me,” Krishtalka said. “I spent many years uncovering and studying these and other extinct mammals with Dr. Stucky, and I am humbled by his recognition of our wonderful collegiality and accomplishments in bringing to light the ancient world of mammals in North America.”
Along with Michael Christiansen of MIT, Stucky discovered two new species in the Buck Spring Quarries of Wyoming, naming one after Krishtalka, who worked at and described many species from that site with Stucky for 15 years. Both fossilized mammals lived during the early Eocene epoch, between 57 and 50 million years ago, when Wyoming was a lush, open subtropical forest, not unlike modern-day Borneo.
Their paper describing N. krishtalkai is available for download.