Scientists discover the skull of a giant predator long before dinosaurs existed: ScienceAlert

Dinosaurs are famous for being the most terrifying predators of prehistoric times, but a newly discovered skull sheds light on a fearsome beast that dominated the Earth 40 million years before the first “terrible lizards” arrived on Earth.

A 265-million-year-old fossil unearthed in Brazil reveals the largest carnivore of his time, one who roamed the jungle in search of unlucky creatures to gnaw.

“This animal was a strange-looking beast, and must have struck great fear in anything that crossed its path.” He says Harvard paleontologist Stephanie Pierce.

An almost complete fossilized skull Pampafonus pikai About 36 cm (14.2 in) long was discovered with skeletal bones nearby Sao Gabriel In southern Brazil.

Pampafonos Fits into the early therapsid branch Enlarged heada major group of large and generally fearsome terrestrial animals that once flourished T-Rex And colleagues. Not all dinosaurs were carnivores, however Pampafonos Sure it was.

“The animal had large, sharp fangs adapted for grasping prey.” He says Felipe Pinheiro, a paleontologist from the Federal University of Pampa (UNIPAMPA) in Brazil.

“Its teeth and skull structure suggest that its bite was powerful enough to chew bone, much like modern-day hyenas.”

Pampafonos He lived at the end Permianbefore the mass extinction event – the largest ever – that wiped out 86 percent of all animal species on Earth.

“The fossil was found in Middle Permian rocks, in an area where bones are not very common, but they always hold pleasant surprises.” He says First author Matthews A. Costa Santos, paleontologist at UNIPAMPA.

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Fossils of other decapods have previously been found in Russia and South Africa, but… Pampafonus pikai It is the only known species from Brazil, and the team says this is a well-preserved fossil.”Reveals new, previously unknown characters of this species“, since a smaller skull was found in 2008.

“Searching for something new Pampafonos “The skull after a long time was extremely important for increasing our knowledge of the animal.” He says Santos, “which had previously been difficult to distinguish from its Russian relatives.”

Technical reconstruction Pampafonus pikai. (Marcio Castro)

Pampafonos It was definitely not an easy task. These animals were a massive sight at a height of 3 meters (10 feet) and a maximum weight estimated at 400 kilograms (882 pounds).

In the past decade, the same region has provided evidence of this PampafonosPotential prey in Small reptiles Rastodon And the Massive amphibious Konjokovia. Huge size Pampafonos It makes both creatures look like snacks.

Pampafonos “It played the same ecological role as modern big cats,” Pinheiro said He says. “It was the largest terrestrial predator we know of from the Permian of South America.”

It wasn’t just his size that made him Pampafonos stand out. Their skulls were densely built, like many decapitans, earning the branch its appropriate name, which translates to “terrible head” in Greek.

Skull of a new Pampaphoneus biccai specimen
Skull of a new Pampaphoneus biccai specimen. (Felipe Pinheiro)

New information revealed by analysis of this skull leads researchers to believe that the currently unidentified jawbone is from a larger, poorer version of Pampafonus pikai. The team says more fossils are needed to confirm the hypothesis, but this could mean that the terrible head they just studied isn’t even from an adult.

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“His discovery is key to providing a glimpse into the societal structure of terrestrial ecosystems before the largest mass extinction ever,” Pearce said. He says. “A stunning discovery that demonstrates the global importance of Brazil’s fossil record.”

The research was published in Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

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