In Russia found an ancient saber-toothed predators

Saber-tooth Illustration

Co-authored by Christian Kammerer, from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, U.S., and Vladimir Masyutin, a researcher at the Vyatka Paleontological Museum in Kirov, Russia, the two papers describe previously unknown species of prehistoric saber-toothed creatures that roamed the Earth during the Permian Period (approximately 299-252 million years ago).

There, the scientists unearthed well-preserved ancient saber-toothed predators fossils that turned out to belong to new species of Permian protomammals.

A couple of studies published yesterday in the journal PeerJ revealed the discovery of two very special fossils.

Living mammals are descended from a group of animals called therapsids, a diverse assemblage of "protomammals" that dominated terrestrial ecosystems in the Permian Period (~299-252 million years ago), millions of years before the earliest dinosaurs. These species consist of saber-toothed predators, tusked herbivores, and burrowing insectivores. Gorynychus is named after Zmey Gorynych, a three-headed dragon, and Nochnitsa is named after a malevolent nocturnal spirit. As such, remains of the proto-mammals found in other parts of the world offer invaluable perspective, helping scientists determine whether shifts in the therapsid fossil record were the result of regional or global phenomena.

Gorynychus was part of a subgroup of protomammals known as therocephalians, while Nochnitsa was part of the gorgonopsians subgroup. The former is a small carnivore having narrow pointed teeth and a significantly long snout.

This is where the fossils of the newly-discovered predator species come in.

These fossils reportedly are of the Permian Period and are said to have existed outside South Africa.

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The protomammals are the ancestors of modern mammals, but they were wiped nearly entirely at the end of the Permian era when the age of dinosaurs started. Of note, the discovery of these fossils in Russian Federation help reveal the evolution of protomammals during the mid-Permian period mass extinction, which helped shape the course of protomammal - and mammal - evolution.

Gorynychus (the beast head) is a Permian saber-toothed proto-mammal about the size of a modern wolf, which makes it one of the larger animals ever found in the area.

However, in the late-Permian, these therapsid subgroups had reversed their balance of power, gorgonopsians becoming the top predators and therocephalians evolving into small insectivore proto-mammals.

Kammerer chimed in on the situation.

"In between these extinctions, there was a complete flip-flop in what roles these carnivores were playing in their ecosystems - as if bears suddenly became weasel-sized and weasels became bear-sized in their place", says Kammerer.

Scientists witnessed such turnover in fossils discovered in South Africa, but this is the first evidence that protomammal predators across the world changed drastically after the mid-Permian extinction.


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