12-Million-Year-Old Fossil Points to 'Bone-Crushing' North American Dog

12-Million-Year-Old Fossil Points to 'Bone-Crushing' North American Dog

A new canine species, part of the “bone crusher” family, has recently been identified by researchers with the University of Pennsylvania following the discovery of a fossil at an archaeological site in Maryland. The creature – Cynarctus wangi – lived 12-million years ago and is described in a recent study in the Journal of Paleontology. The animal is described as being around the size of a modern coyote, and the specimen is a fossilized tooth, specifically an upper right second molar recovered at the Choptank Formation, part of Maryland’s Calvert Cliffs.

Cynarctus wangi was part of the Borophagine canids that roamed eastern North America during the middle Miocene era. Borophagine canids are part of a line of carnivorans that includes wolves, domestic dogs, foxes, dingoes and jackals as well as a variety of other existing and extinct dog-like animals. Referred to as bone crushers, (they are known for their strong jaws and oversized teeth) the Borophagine canids lived across North America from 10 to 30 million years ago. Researchers believe the species probably went extinct because it was unable to compete with other canids.

Regardless of the fierce nickname, scientists don’t believe C. wangi was wholly carnivorous. The fossil led them to the conclusion that around two-thirds of its meals were non-meat — the animal was surviving on insects and plants, more like a bear than a dog.

Steven E. Jasinski, a University of Pennsylvania doctoral student and the study’s lead author, wrote in the study that what’s especially significant about the find is its location –the discovery of land animal fossils in the Choptank Formation is extremely rare and therefore can provide important information about North America as it was between 12 and 13 million years ago.

The Miocene period (extending from 23 million to 5 million years ago) was the first geological epoch in the Neogene Period. The word Miocene means ‘less recent’ and the ‘Epoch’ gained its name due to having 18% fewer modern sea creatures than the epoch which followed it, the Pliocene.

 

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