‘Saber-toothed’ vegetarian prowled Brazil 260 million years ago

March 25th, 2011 - 2:53 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Mar 25 (ANI): A dog-sized, vegetarian animal that lived 260 million years ago in Brazil might have used its fierce-looking saber-teeth to ward off predators and in battles over territory, according to a new study.

Palaeontologists also believe the animal was one of the first of its kind to sport upper and lower teeth that fit together when it bit down - a feature that we humans and many other animals today enjoy.

The new species, named Tiarajudens eccentricus, was part of a group of ancient animals called therapsids, many of which are relatives of today’s mammals.

“Tiarajudens was an animal the size of a large dog. Its general appearance was bizarre - a slightly robust animal with a short snout from which large saber teeth came out,” project leader Juan Carlos Cisneros told Discovery News.

Federal University of Piaui palaeontologist Cisneros and his team analysed the animal’s fossils, which consist of a smashed-up skull and some teeth.

They calculate it had a total of 21 teeth on just one side of its skull. In addition to the long, pointy sabers, these included spoon-shaped incisors associated with modern herbivores, as well as large crowned teeth linked to animals like today’s grass-eating cows.

“Grasses are rich in fiber and modern ruminants eat them, but in the Permian grasses didn’t exist so this new therapsid probably ate stems or leaves rich in fiber that existed at the time,” said Cisneros.

While the saber teeth might have helped to move or pull soft branches, the researchers suspect this ‘eccentric’ plant eater was very territorial, showing its impressive teeth to rivals while defending land and protecting itself from predators.

Dinosaurs did not live in this animal’s realm, but other large predators were around, such as 13 to 20-foot-long dinocephalians (meaning ‘terrible heads’), biarmosuchians and the gorgonopsians.

“As teeth can fall out after battles and for other reasons, Tiarajudens was constantly replacing its molar-like teeth,” said Cisneros.

The finding is described in the latest issue of Science. (ANI)

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