A newly discovered 150 million-year-old termite-eating mammal ived alongside the dinosaurs, US researchers have reported in Science magazine.
The research shows that mammals evolved the specialisations for feasting on termites at least twice.
Fruitafossor windscheffelia is separated by about 100 million years from the ancestors of today's termite eaters such as armadilloes.
It had hollow teeth without enamel and forelimbs designed for digging.
Dating to the late Jurassic Period, the mammal would have lived alongside huge dinosaurs such as the Brachiosaurus, Stegosaurus and Allosaurus.
Animals specialised for termite-eating sit or stand on the termite colony and dig the insects out of the dirt with their front limbs. They then trap the bugs under their tongues and swallow them.
This mode of termite eating does not require much chewing, so the teeth developed into hollow structures lacking the hard enamel coating that helps provide a good chewing surface.
The extinct mammal's limbs and hollow teeth resemble the limbs and teeth of aardvarks, anteaters and armadillos.
Authors Zhe-Xi Luo and John Wible from Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, US, say that, despite these important similarities to present-day specialised termite-eaters, F. windscheffelia was only distantly related to them.
This, they say, represents a case of "convergent evolution", in which distantly related animals evolve similar adaptations when faced with the same types of pressures from natural selection.