Saber-toothed predator was probably one of the first true carnivores

(ORDO NEWS) — If you have ever lived with a cat, you have probably received a painful blow from the sharp fangs of your beloved furry at least once.

But 42 million years ago, your kitty’s teeth looked very different: Evolution was still sharpening the teeth of feline animals to a deadly point for piercing and grinding flesh.

A new paper describes one of the earliest known feline predators on the west coast of North America, giving us new information about these ancient predators and the evolution of modern predators.

“Today, the ability to eat exclusively meat, also called hypercarnivoria, is not uncommon. Tigers do it, polar bears can do it. If you have a house cat, you might have a hypercarnivore living in your home.

But 42 million years ago, mammals were just beginning to understand how to survive on only meat,” says paleontologist Ashley Paust of the San Diego Museum of Natural History.

“One of the important developments was the development of specialized teeth for cutting flesh, which is what we see in this recently described specimen.”

The recently described creature, named Diegoaelurus vanvalkenburghae, is known only from a lower jaw fragment with a few teeth, but the teeth give us a lot of information about this ancient predator.

D. vanvalkenburghae is part of a subfamily of extinct cats called Machaeroidinae, which means “dagger-like”. This fossil appears to be the most recent machaeroidine found, and differs significantly from its closest known relative, Apataelurus kayi.

“There has never been anything like this in mammals before,” says Paust.

“Several mammalian ancestors had long fangs, but Diegoaelurus and its few relatives represent the first cat-like approach to eating exclusively meat: saber teeth in front and scissor-like teeth called carnasils in the back. This is a powerful combination that several groups of animals independently friend has been developed over millions of years.”

saber toothed predator was probably one of the first true carnivores 2

It is important to note that other subfamilies also developed saber-toothed predators, including the similar subfamily Machairodontinae, which is home to Smilodon fatalis, the most famous saber-toothed cat.

In fact, the jaw has been in the museum’s collection since 1988, but has only recently been analyzed by the team. The fossil was found in a 42-million-year-old rock formation called the Santiago Formation in San Diego. This formation dates back to the late Eocene and can give us information about a time when the world was warmer and California was a rainforest.

“Fossils from the Santiago Formation show us wooded, humid California, where tiny rhinos, early tapirs and strange sheep-like herbivorous oreodonts grazed under the trees, and unusual primates and marsupials clung to the canopy above them,” says Paust.

“Such a wealth of prey species would be a smorgasbord for Diegoaelurus, allowing it to live the life of a specialized hunter before most other mammals.”

It’s the only Diegoaelurus fossil so far, so it’s a bit lonely in the San Diego Museum’s collection, but if we keep digging deeper, we might find even more sharp-toothed friends.


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