November 19, 2008

Large Feline Fossil Found In North Sea Bed

Researchers have discovered the fossilized leg bone of a saber-toothed cat that lived near the UK coast between one and two million years ago.

Paleontologist Dick Mol said the fossil belonged to a type of saber-tooth called a scimitar cat that weighted about 881lbs.

The recent discovery marks the first time a fossil of this species has been uncovered in the North Sea.

Researchers regularly come across fossils from common extinct beasts such as the mammoth from the sea.

Beam trawlers use special gear to gently touch the sea bed, capturing flatfish lying in the sand. But this also stirs up shallow, buried fossil remains which can end up in the nets.

The fossil, which was encrusted with tiny, coral-like sea creatures called bryozoans, was brought ashore by the owner of the Dutch trawler TX 1.

The owner passed the fossil to a collector who sent it to Mol, who identified its composition. Mol said the weight of the bone was an immediate indication that much of its organic matter had been converted to minerals.

Mol and his colleague Wilrie van Logchem looked at the fossil in comparison to specimens from the site of Untermassfeld in Germany, where a very similar complement of Early Pleistocene animals has been found.

They identified the find as a fragment of front leg from the scimitar cat Homotherium crenatidens.

"The fauna we are dealing with - the southern mammoth, the hippo, the giant deer and this saber-toothed cat - were adapted to a savannah-like environment," said Mol.

"[The cat] was probably living in the forest that bordered on the river banks."

Researchers noted the cat's enormous size in comparison to others previously discovered.

"If we look at the bone, we can see that it was a huge animal - probably a male individual."


Image Caption: Close-up view of the head of a saber-toothed cat on display at the American Natural History Museum. Courtesy Wikipedia