The fossil remains of a wildcat-sized carnivore that lived about 42 million years ago have been unearthed at a fossil bed in California, United States .
Fossil remains of one of the earliest known predators to develop saber teeth have been excavated from a fossil bed in California ( United States ).
They correspond to a new variety of Diegoaelurus, a carnivore the size of a wildcat that lived about 42 million years ago. It was much smaller than the commonly known Smilodon, or saber-toothed cat . Smilodon evolved approximately 40 million years after Diegoaelurus became extinct, but both animals were saber-toothed hypercarnivorous predators , meaning their diets consisted almost entirely of meat.
Diegoaelurus and its few relatives, from Wyoming and China, were the first predators to evolve saber teeth , although several other unrelated animals developed this adaptation much later.
The specimen includes a well-preserved lower jaw and teeth, giving us new insights into the behavior and evolution of some of the first mammals to have an exclusively meat-based diet.
“Today, the ability to eat a meat-only diet, also called hypercarnivory, is not uncommon. Tigers do it, polar bears can do it. If you have a domestic cat, you may even have a hypercarnivore in But 42 million years ago, mammals were just figuring out how to survive on meat alone,” explains Dr. Ashley Poust, a postdoctoral researcher at The Nat, the San Diego Museum of Natural History.
“One big advance was developing specialized teeth for cutting meat, which is something we see in this newly described specimen,” he adds.
Mysterious group of carnivores
This primitive carnivorous predator is part of a mysterious group of animals called Machaeroidines. Now completely extinct, they were not closely related to carnivores alive today.
“We know very little about machaeroids, so each new discovery vastly expands our picture of them,” said co-author Dr. Shawn Zack, of the University of Arizona School of Medicine.
“This relatively complete and well-preserved Diegoaelurus fossil is especially useful because the teeth allow us to infer diet and begin to understand how machaeroidins are related to each other,” said Zack, whose research is published in PeerJ.
Zack, Poust, and their third co-author, Hugh Wagner, also of The Nat, named the predator Diegoaelurus vanvalkenburghae. The name honors the San Diego county where the specimen was found and scientist Blaire Van Valkenburgh, former president of the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology, whose seminal work on the evolution of carnivores influenced this research.
(With information from Europe Press)