A saber-tooth predator species that wandered the Earth millions of years before the first saber-tooth tiger has been discovered thanks to new research on a jawbone fossil. Researchers called the new predator Diegoaelurus vanvalkenburghae and categorized it as a Machaeroidine, a genus of meat-eating animals that lived more than 40 million years ago during the Eocene epoch.
Dr. Shawn Zack of the University of Arizona College of Medicine, the co-author of a study report published Tuesday in PeerJ, stated, “We know so little about Machaeroidines, so any discovery dramatically enhances our image of them.”
In 1988, a 12-year-old child in Oceanside, California, near San Diego, found the fossil. Since then, the jawbone has been kept at the San Diego Natural History Museum’s vast fossil collection. Researchers utilized 3D modeling technology to determine that the fossil was a new species of Machaeroidine that lived millions of years ago in the California region.
“The teeth on this very full, well-preserved Diegoaelurus fossil allow us to deduce the diet and begin to grasp how Machaeroidines are connected,” Zack added.
The oldest known saber-toothed mammalian predators are machaeroidines. Unfortunately, they’ve been extinct for a long time, and experts know virtually little about them. Only four or five Machaeroidine species are known, and only a few individuals represent each. Machaeroidines are an early example of a hypercarnivore, a creature that eats more than 70% meat.
Hypercarnivores are prevalent today, with polar bears and tigers being two well-known examples. If you have a pet cat, you already have a hypercarnivore in your house. The National Museum of Natural History has a 3D model of the fossilized jaw bone that you can view here.