A bone crusher dog discovered in Maryland ate like a modern bear, researchers discovered. This finding could reveal the answers to what life was like in the distant past.
Cynarctus wangi lived roughly 12 million years ago along the mid-Atlantic coast of land that would become the United States. The animals were about the size of modern coyotes, but they were members of the extinct subfamily Borophaginae, known for their powerful jaws and teeth.
At the time C. wangi roamed the land, gigantic sharks, such as the megalodon, also prowled the oceans of the world.
"Most fossils known from this time period represent marine animals, who become fossilized more easily than animals on land. 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," Steven Jasinski of the University of Pennsylvania said.
This find will assist biologists and paleontologists in piecing together what life was like in this region during the Miocene Epoch. Researchers believe this bone crusher dog may have acted much like hyenas do in the modern age.
The species was discovered by an amateur collector in the Calvert Cliffs region of Maryland. Researchers first thought the find was a sample of the marylandica, a known form of borophagine dog. However, analysis of how the teeth came together in the jaw revealed the fossil was a specimen of a previously-unknown species.
Borophagine dogs lived between 30 and 10 million years ago, and were once common around North America. The creatures disappeared around 2 million years before our own time. The last of these creatures, which include C. wagni, were likely driven to extinction by competition from foxes, wolves, and coyotes.
Analysis of the jaw reveals that these creatures were omnivores, eating a diet which consumed meat for roughly one-third of their total nutrition. The remainder of their food would have likely come in the form of insects and plants, similar to the diet of modern bears. This is the first predator from that ancient era discovered in the region.
This newly-discovered species is named in honor of Xiaoming Wang, an expert on mammalian carnivores employed at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
Analysis of the C. wagni fossil is published in the Journal of Paleontology.