A prehistoric marine bear that resembled an otter may have been big enough to bite back. Its vicious bite was probably as dangerous as that of a saber-toothed tiger.
The eating style of Kolponomos, a mysterious shell-consuming creature of prehistoric times, may have been similar to the saber-toothed tiger. It lived 20 million years ago and is extinct today.
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X-ray images and computer simulations helped researchers discover how this strange animal bit into its prey. While the physical structure of Kolponomos and the saber-toothed tiger was miles apart, the functional mechanisms both creatures used may have been the same.
Their food choices and environment were no doubt radically apart. However, the jaw structures of Kolponomos were such that they anchored into the prey and forced its shell apart from the muscular part via a thrusting power. The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
The ancient remains of both creatures were excavated from Oregon, Washington and Alaska. The scant fossils of Kolponomos that have been found as well as its abstruse morphology tend to increase the mystery surrounding this curious creature. Its rightful place on the lineage of evolutionary history remains an enigma.
"When Kolponomos was first described in the 1960s, it was thought to be a raccoon relative," said Camille Grohé, a National Science Foundation and Frick Postdoctoral Fellow in the American Museum of Natural History's Division of Paleontology and a co-author on the new paper.
"But later research on the skull base led some to think it might be a seal or a bear relative instead, and studies of its teeth show that they are very similar in both shape and wear to the teeth in sea otters."
First found in the 60s, Kolponomos was thought to be a variant of the racoon. Later studies that were conducted on the base of its skull led to the belief that it was a type of seal or bear.
Especially the teeth were like the dentition of sea otters. This is because sea otters tease their prey, which consists of mussels and clams, from their fixed positions on rocks with their hands.
Then they employ their teeth to crush the shells getting to the soft meat inside. As scientists noticed to their surprise, the Kolponomos was similar in its mandibular structure to the saber-toothed tiger.
The profile of the skulls showed a striking resemblance that fascinated the researchers. The deep jaw bone became narrower towards the hind area. As for the mastoid process, it expanded proportionately.
The biting ability of this animal was strong and deadly. As the CAT scans revealed, the two creatures were far apart on the evolutionary ladder yet one of their organs showed homologous features.
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Thus this creative study shows the analogies between two vastly different carnivorous creatures. This is a feature of Nature which makes rules only to break them at will. It is a million steps ahead of man.