Ancient meat-loving predators survived for 35 million years

Dec 06, 2011
This is a Varanodon skull. Credit: Reisz / Naturwissenschaften

A species of ancient predator with saw-like teeth, sleek bodies and a voracious appetite for meat survived a major extinction at a time when the distant relatives of mammals ruled the earth.

A detailed description of a fossil that scientists identify as a varanopid "pelycosaur" is published in the December issue of Naturwissenschaften – The Science of Nature. Professors Sean Modesto from Cape Breton University, and Robert Reisz from the University of Toronto Mississauga, provide evidence that a group of ancient, agile predators called varanopids survived for more than 35 million years, and co-existed with more advanced animals.

Modesto and the team performed a detailed examination of the partial skull and jaw of the youngest known primitive mammal-like animal, which they believe lived over 260 million years ago in the Permian Period. The fossils are from rocks forming the Pristerognathus Assemblage Zone of the Beaufort Group in South Africa.

"These animals were the most agile predators of their time, sleek-looking when compared to their contemporaries," says Reisz. "They seem to have survived a major change in the terrestrial fauna that occurred during the Middle Permian, a poorly understood event in the history of life on land."

According to Modesto, "These ancient animals really looked like modern goannas or monitor lizards, but are actually more closely related to ."

The revealed that are strongly flattened, curved towards the throat and with finely serrated cutting edges typical of hypercarnivores - animals with a diet that consists of more than 70 percent meat.

Modesto and his colleagues concluded that these varanopids had a longer co-existence with animals that eventually evolved into mammals than previously believed. They suggest that the dental and skeletal design of varanopids, reminiscent of the Komodo dragon of today, may have contributed to their long survival and their success.

Explore further: Study sheds new light on the diet of extinct animals

More information: Modesto SP, Smith RMH, Campione NE, Reisz RR (2011). The last "pelycosaur": a varanopid synapsid from the Pristerognathus Assemblage Zone, Middle Permian of South Africa. Naturwissenschaften – The Science of Nature; DOI 10.1007/s00114-011-0856-2

Related Stories

Reptiles stood upright after mass extinction

Sep 15, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Reptiles changed their walking posture from sprawling to upright immediately after the end-Permian mass extinction, the biggest crisis in the history of life that occurred some 250 million ...

Recommended for you

Study sheds new light on the diet of extinct animals

7 hours ago

A study of tooth enamel in mammals living today in the equatorial forest of Gabon could ultimately shed light on the diet of long extinct animals, according to new research from the University of Bristol.

Ancient clay seals may shed light on biblical era

Dec 20, 2014

Impressions from ancient clay seals found at a small site in Israel east of Gaza are signs of government in an area thought to be entirely rural during the 10th century B.C., says Mississippi State University archaeologist ...

Digging up the 'Spanish Vikings'

Dec 19, 2014

The fearsome reputation of the Vikings has made them the subject of countless exhibitions, books and films - however, surprisingly little is known about their more southerly exploits in Spain.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.