Ancient sabre-toothed vegetarian animal discovered

Scientists have discovered the fossils of what they say is a sabre-toothed beast.

Updated: Mar 26, 2011, 09:35 AM IST

Washington: Scientists have discovered the
fossils of what they say a sabre-toothed beast that munched on
leaves and once prowled South America some 260 million years
ago.

The newfound creature, which was about the size of a
large and looked more like a tortoise than a feared predator,
is named Tiarajudens eccentricus.

Despite its vegetarian tendencies, the dagger teeth
will have helped the animal deal with predators and enemies,
the researchers said.

Juan Carlos Cisneros, a vertebrate paleontologist at the
Federal University of Piau in Teresina, Brazil, said finding
of the fossil was a bizarre experience.

"If you asked me how surprised I was about finding this
fossil, I can tell you that finding a fossil so bizarre as
Tiarajudens eccentricus, a fossil that looks like if it has
been made from parts of different animals, is like finding a
unicorn," Carlos told LiveScience.

"You see it, but you don`t believe it."

In addition to the crayon-size sabre canines, the entire
roof of its mouth was covered with teeth, the researchers
said. This animal was a kind of anomodont, the most abundant
four-legged creatures of the Permian, the 50-million-year-long
period right before the age of dinosaurs. Anomodonts belonged
to a group known as therapsids, which gave rise to modern
mammals.

According to the researchers, when the animal was alive,
the land what is now Brazil was dry, with dunes interspersed
with lakes and rivers, similar to Namibia or Botswana today.

Grasses did not exist at that time but it may have fed on
stems or leaves of Permian flora, Cisneros said, and was more
akin to the eating habits of cows and sheep than of a
meat-eater.

The findings suggest that sparring contests might have
appeared "as soon as herbivore-dominated communities were
established in terrestrial environments more than 260 million
years ago," Cisneros added.

The scientists detailed their findings in the journal
Science.

PTI