January 3, 2011

Sabertooth Species Threatened Ancient Hominid Species

Paleontologists have found two new sabertooth species that use to roam in an ancient lakeside habitat in Africa, along with humankind's oldest known ancestor.

A team unearthed the remains of a seven million-year-old human-like creature known as "Toumai" at the central African site.

Its discoverers say that Toumai is the oldest hominid species known to exist.

The Toumai's skull was found in the Djurab desert by a team led by Michael Brunet of the University of Poitiers, France.

Paleontologists have found the fossilized remains of fish, amphibians and crocodiles.

However, they also found evidence of grasslands, gallery forest and a desert.

Researchers have discovered the fossilized remains of a wide variety of carnivorous mammals at Toros Menalla. 

Paleontologists reported finding remains of a large sabertooth cat from Toros Menalla known as Machairodus kabir, which weighed in at 770 to 1,080 pounds.

Louis de Bonis from Poitiers University and colleagues add two new sabertooth species to the growing list of carnivores that stalked this region of central Africa in late Miocene times.

The cat remains were found during recent field expeditions and have been identified as new species belonging to the genus Lakotunjailurus and the genus Megantereon.

Patrick Vignaud, director of Poitier University's Institute of Palaeo-primatology and Human Paleontology, told BBC News that the cats were about the same size as modern lions.

"With our present data, we don't know what precisely the interactions were between a primate and a big carnivore. But probably these interactions were not so friendly," said Vignaud.

He told BBC News: "Sabertooths hunted all mammals; bovids, equids... and primates. The interactions were also more 'psychological', exercising a stress on potential prey. We can't prove it but it's probably important because in that case, primates had to live near closed environments like gallery forest."

While ancient primates like Sahelanthropus tchadensis gave sabertooth cats a wide berth, they may also have depended on these big carnivores for their survival.

The big cats would have hunted large herbivorous mammals, and probably left enough meat on their kills for scavengers like the jackal-sized Hyaenictherium and maybe even primates like Sahelanthropus.


Image Caption: Cast of a Sahelanthropus tchadensis skull (Toumai). Credit: Didier Descouens/Wikipedia  


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