Jaelyn Eberle, University of Colorado, Boulder.

[Talpid mammal Oreotalpa florissantensis gen. et sp. nov., FLFO 5813 (holotype), right dentary with m1-m3 from UCM locality 92179, Florissant Formation, Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Colorado, USA]

Talpids, which include small, burrowing moles, shrew-moles, and semi-aquatic desmans, are not well known from the fossil record, probably because of their small size and cryptic lifestyles. This tiny fossil jaw belongs to an ancient mole coined Oreotalpa; it was about the size of a mouse and lived in Colorado some 34 million years ago during the late Eocene Epoch. Although it may sound yummy (like Oreo cookies!), Oreo actually means 'mountain' in Greek, and Oreotalpa (or 'mountain mole') was named in honor of Colorado's Rocky Mountains where it was discovered. Judging by its teeth, Oreotalpa probably ate insects, like its living cousins do.

At 34 million years old, Oreotalpa is the oldest known mole from North America, and it's about the same age as the oldest moles from Europe and Asia too. Up until its discovery, paleontologists favored a Eurasian origin for moles, but Oreotalpa raises the possibility that moles may have originated here in North America. In order to really understand the geographic origin of moles, we need A LOT more fossils, so keep your eyes peeled to the ground!