Dagger-Toothed Vegetarian Reptile from the Late Permian of Brazil

Researchers reporting in the scientific journal “Live Science” have announced the discovery of a bizarre vegetarian reptile, with large upper canine teeth making it look a little like a miniature Sabre-toothed cat.  The animal formally named as Tiarajudens eccentricus was about the size of an Alsatian, it was a plant-eater, as other teeth in the fossilised jaws are clearly adapted for crushing plant matter, but the large, prominent canines represent a palaeontological puzzle for scientists.

A number of animals in the fossil record show large sabre-like teeth, the Sabre-toothed cats (Smilodon) are perhaps the best known but other groups such as the gorgonopsids evolved oversized, dagger-like teeth.  Most of these creatures were entirely carnivorous, however, herbivores with enlarged teeth are known.  For example, the two-metre-long dicynodont Dinodontosaurus had an enlarged upper tooth either side of its top jaw.  These teeth would not have been very useful in feeding, perhaps the teeth, which resemble tusks had a display function.

Tiarajudens eccentricus

The upper teeth each measure over 14 centimetres in length, research leader Juan Carlos Cisneros of the University of Piaui in north-eastern Brazil, stated these animals may have used their teeth to intimidate rivals or to attract a mate.  The teeth could also be used in threat gestures to scare of any potential predators.

This new genus has been compared to the extant Musk Deer (genus Moschus), which also has a pair of large, tusk-like teeth but is entirely herbivorous.

Dr Juan Carlos Cisneros, a specialist on Permian and Triassic Tetrapods stated that when discovering animals like this:

“Shows us how nature is extremely creative in providing solutions for several life tasks.”

In the picture showing a ventral view of the left side of the skull, a long, dagger-like tooth can be clearly seen, along with peg-like teeth from the premaxilla.  The large orbit, (eye socket) indicates that vision was a very important sense for this small member of the Anomodontia.

The research team state that the palate of the mouth was studded with teeth, allowing for rapid replacement of lost teeth an adaptation to a diet of tough, fibrous leaves.

Dr Juan Carlos Cisnero went onto add:

“It looks like a combination of different animals and it takes some time to believe it when you this animal in front of you.  It has the incisors of a horse, which are very good for cutting and pulling plants, the big molars of a capybara [large rodent] for grinding and the canines of a sabre-toothed cat.”

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