Ancestor of All Mammals Contest Will Name New Discovery

I know what you're thinking: We're related to this guy?

The answer, in short, is yes. This furry little creature is a placental mammal recently discovered by 23 international scientists. "Placental" refers to creatures who form in a womb, as opposed to an egg or pouch. Mammals such the one pictured here began to proliferate after an asteroid hit Earth, wiping out the dinosaur population. Scientists believe this particular creature is the forebear of all living mammals, from tigers to flying squirrels to, yes, humans.

"Species like rodents and primates did not share the Earth with nonavian dinosaurs, but arose from a common ancestor — a small, insect-eating, scampering animal — shortly after the dinosaurs' demise," says Stony Brook University in New York researcher Maureen O'Leary.

The problem is, our great great great great great (whatever) ancestor doesn't have a name. Don't blame the scientists for this travesty, they're only trying to help. They can't name the creature because they don't have a fossil, only a remarkable drawing of what the little guy probably looked like. So right now this highly important creature is called the "hypothetical placental mammal."

Pretty boring, right? That's where Radiolab comes in. The radio program is teaming up with the American Museum of Natural History in New York City to host a contest to give our ancestral creature a name.

The way it works is this: Interested contenders submit names, then Radiolab and AMNH pick their top choices. Afterward, the public votes on the best name.

"We need something light, snappy, sweet," Radiolab posted on its website, "something that'll earn this little guy respect both in the halls of academia and on the street. A nickname to stand the test of time."

Want to take a shot at naming our furry forebear? Then head over to Radiolab's website and submit an email. Or, tweet your proposed name with the hashtag #nameyourancestor. The deadline is March 5.

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