New study reveals secrets of extinct former ‘super predator’

The skull of Anteosaurus next to that of a modern human. Photo: Author provided.

260 to 265 million years ago, a huge creature called Anteosaurus roamed what is now the African continent. This period was known as the Middle Permian – and Anteosaurus was one of its fiercest carnivores. He had massive, crushing teeth, a gigantic skull, and a powerful jaw.

Despite its name, Anteosaurus was not a dinosaur. He belonged to dinosaurs, a family of mammals like reptiles that predated dinosaurs. Much like dinosaurs, dinosaurs roamed and ruled the earth at one time. But they were born, thrived, and died about 30 million years before the first dinosaur even existed.

The fossilized bones of dinocephali are found in many places around the world. They are distinguished by their large size and heaviness. The bones of dinocephaly are thick and dense, and Anteosaurus is no exception. His skull was adorned with large bumps (bumps and bumps) above the eyes and a long ridge at the top of the muzzle. This, along with his enlarged canines, made him look like a truly fierce creature.

But due to the heavy architecture of its skeleton, scientists have always assumed that Anteosaurus was a rather slow and slow animal, able to trap or ambush its prey, at best. Some scientists have even suggested that Anteosaurus was so heavy that he had to live in the water.

Now our team of paleontologists from South Africa and Europe has been able to re-evaluate Anteosaurus hunting abilities. Our results show that Anteosaurus The refined nervous system and sensory organs have been optimized to hunt quickly and strike quickly, like the long-notorious cheetah or velociraptor. Contrary to what we believed for a long time, Anteosaurus was not a primitive, slow creature: it was nothing less than a powerful prehistoric killing machine.

Technology offers a new vision

We used X-ray imaging and 3D reconstructions to better understand this Anteosaurus nervous system would have looked like. As Anteosaurus is a very large animal, most specimens would be too big to fit in most CT scanners, so we used a specimen that was found many years ago in the Karoo region of South Africa with its disarticulated bones . This way, we were able to scan each bone independently and digitally reconstruct the skull completely afterwards, using the powerful computers at the Institute for Evolutionary Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

We were then able to investigate its internal structures. Anteosaurus the organ of balance, its inner ear, was found to be relatively larger than that of its closest relatives and other predators living simultaneously. This indicates that Anteosaurus was able to move much faster than its prey and competitors. We also found that the part of the brain responsible for coordinating eye movements with the head was unusually large. This would have been a crucial trait in ensuring the animal’s tracking capabilities. Its agility, as we pointed out in the article, could be compared to that of the North American mountain lion, or cougar.

Taken together, all of these results show that Anteosaurus the nervous system was specialized and optimized so that the animal could hunt quickly and strike quickly. Its prey would have included large herbivores like Moschognathus, small animals resembling lizards, large amphibians or even other carnivores.

Changing our understanding

It was once believed that dinosaurs were slow, slow-moving animals living in swamps and unable to move their bodies out of water for a long time. They were considered “primitive” and doomed to die out. Since then, the Dinosaur Renaissance has proven these preconceptions about dinosaurs to be wrong – now dinosaurs have become more alive than ever in people’s imaginations. This better understanding also made it possible to finally understand that birds are the direct descendants of dinosaurs.

Anteosaurus belongs to pre-mammalian reptiles, an extinct group of animals that eventually evolved into the ancestors of mammals. New imaging techniques are reshaping our understanding of the biology of these ancient animals, which is essential to better understand our own origins as mammals. This study of Anteosaurus helps rewrite the narrative of pre-mammalian evolution; like the dinosaur renaissance, it has the potential to shed new light on our mammalian origins.The conversation

Julien Benoit is a senior researcher in vertebrate paleontology, University of the Witwatersrand. This article has been republished since The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original here.