(ORDO NEWS) — Strong and fast, and often saber-toothed predators played a significant role in the history of the Cenozoic era. In a new study, paleontologists have shown that the first of these truly predatory animals was Diegoalerus vanvalkenburghae, which lived 42 million years ago, which somewhat resembles modern cats.
Until recently, by geological standards, the Earth was inhabited by many saber-toothed predators. They were united by the presence of long, curved, like a saber, fangs that protruded outward from the closed mouth.
The purpose of this “weapon” is not difficult to guess: with its help, the saber-toothed killed and butchered their rather large victims, including representatives of the famous megafauna – large mammals of the past.
Recall that mammals are a class of vertebrates that dominates the modern Earth and is represented mainly by placental, or animals. Carnivores among them are one of the most important evolutionary branches.
Dozens of species of saber-toothed predators have been described, which belong to various families of mammals.
The most famous of these is the smilodon, which is sometimes incorrectly referred to as the “saber-toothed tiger”. Many of the saber-toothed animals were very widespread in the past, but later completely disappeared. The last saber-toothed animals died out about 10 thousand years ago.
Paleontologists are interested in the beginning of the glorious history of saber-toothed predators. They drew attention to the remains of a jaw with teeth of a recognizable shape, which were discovered on the territory of modern California (USA) more than 30 years ago.
“Now the ability to live on a purely meat diet, that is, hyperpredation, is not a rarity,” says Ashley Poust, one of the authors of the new paper . – It is typical for tigers and polar bears. If you have a cat at home, you can make a hyperpredator out of it. However, 42 million years ago, mammals were just beginning to figure out how to live on meat alone.”
Dr. Pust believes that special teeth designed for tearing meat, those very iconic “saber” fangs, helped a lot with these ancient beasts.
He and his colleagues carefully examined the fossilized jaw and decided that it belongs to a new species – Diegoaelurus vanvalkenburghae . So far, this small piece of fossil is the only source of knowledge about Diegoelurus, but it has allowed us to understand a lot.
D. vanvalkenburghae was one of the first to lead a truly predatory lifestyle. It resembled modern cats, although it does not belong to this family. Scientists placed the ancient beast in a special subfamily Machaeroidinae , which in Latin means “resembling a dagger.” It, in turn, belongs to the completely extinct order of Creodonts.
“Some early mammals also had long fangs, but Diegoalerus sp. and a number of its relatives represent the first example of a “cat approach” to a 100% predatory lifestyle, with saber-like fangs in front and cutting like scissors, the so-called carnassial teeth in the back,” says Pust.
The scientist suggests that the ancient saber-toothed beast had a whole “buffet” of various victims and therefore was able to become one of the first successful predators of its kind.
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