The 12-million-year-old dog fossil was found in Maryland. The newfound dog species had strong jaws and broad teeth like a hyena.
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have unearthed fossil remains of an ancient dog in Maryland’s Calvert Cliffs region. The fossil remains date to 12 million years ago and more importantly, they represent a new species of dog.
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Researchers suggest the new dog species belongs to an extinct group of dog known as bone crushers who got this name due to their strong jaws and sharp teeth. Those dogs used to tear apart their prey with the same force as the hyena.
Bone-crusher dog family was widespread across North America from 30 million to 10 million years ago and were likely went extent due to tough competition driven by the ancestors of modern day wolves, coyotes and foxes.
The newfound species, named Cynarctus wangi, roamed East Coast of North America and these fossil remains are precious from paleontological perspective since this region has yielded a very limited number of terrestrial fossils from that period. C. wangi was probably one of the last surviving species of bone-crushers.
“Most fossils from this time period represent marine animals, who became fossilized more easily than animals on land,” said lead researcher of the study Steven E. Jasinski. “It is quite rare we find fossils from land animals in this region during this time, but each one provides important information for what life was like then.”
Initially, researchers confused the newly-discovered species of dog with a known species of bone-crushers called marylandica. Its fossil was recently discovered in the sediments of same area. But when those two fossils were compared, a noticeable difference was observed. The occlusal surfaces of teeth, place where top and bottom teeth meet, were clearly distinguishable from each other. Despite their strong jaws, researchers believe that C. wangi were not entirely carnivores. They might have also eaten plants for their survival at one point.
“Based on its teeth, probably only about a third of its diet would have been meat. It would have supplemented that by eating plants or insects, liking more like a mini-bear than like a dog,” said Jasinski. “This new dog gives us useful insight into the ecosystem of eastern North America between 12 and 13 million years ago.”
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The study was published in Journal of Paleontology.