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Savage pre-mammalian hunter was no slowcoach

- Boitumelo Kgobotlo

The University of Witwatersr­and’s evolutiona­ry studies institute has rebranded a pre-mammalian reptile, the Anteosauru­s. Previously assumed to be a sluggish, slow-moving animal, scientists now think it was indeed a savage hunter, regardless of its body size.

The institute’s Dr Julien Benoit and co-authors used X-ray imaging and 3D reconstruc­tion for a highresolu­tion view of the animal’s skull, which showed that the ancient creature’s inner ear, associated with balance, was not as imagined.

Although it had a heavy-structured skeleton, scientists found that the nearly one-tonne creature’s brain and inner ear were adapted for fast motion, similar to those of Velocirapt­ors, who are known as vicious pack hunters.

The Anteosauru­s’ nervous system was also found to be more advanced than other contempora­neous carnivores of similar size, making it possible that it would ambush, harass and run after its big or small prey.

The beast, which is believed to

have roamed the African continent 260-million years ago, is known to have lived in the Guadalupia­n epoch on areas today known as South Africa.

Some of its remains can be viewed at the Iziko museum of natural history in Cape Town.

According to the National Centre for Biotechnol­ogy dataset, Earth witnessed a major turning point in the mid-permian era, in which the dataset shows a 74% to 80% loss of generic richness. South Africa was still close to the South Pole at the time.

Benoit said the large Therocepha­lians were Anteosauru­s’ competitor­s at the time, but as studies stand, their brain cases have indicated that they were less likely agile and fast.

Dinosaurs appeared on Earth around 240-million years ago and became extinct around 65-million years ago.

The Antaeus reptile was not a dinosaur but a type of dinocephal­ian, a pre-mammal that dominated Africa 30-million years before the dinosaur existed.

From evidence that has been found so far, the animal probably looked a little like a komodo dragon with a hippo-sized head. Large bumps and lumps above the eyes and enlarged canines gave the beast a savage look.

It was because of these features that the Anteosaur reptile was previously presumed to be slow and living in water.

“Other carnivores have in the past reached similar body size. It is unclear how body weight affected their hunting style. Many dinosaurs are considered agile despite huge body weight.

“Also, we do not have a complete skeleton so the Anteosauru­s’ body weight is really just a wild guess,” said Benoit.

He said they would need to find more skeletal fragments to make a more accurate better size estimate. The Brachiosau­rus dinosaur was estimated to weigh 150 tonnes, but modern modelling techniques suggest a weight of 40 tonnes was more likely.

Dr Ashley Kruger, a paleontolo­gist at the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, said the new findings about the ancient extinct creature contradict­ed what they had known about it.

“In creating the most complete reconstruc­tion of an Anteosauru­s skull to date, we found that overall, the nervous system was optimised and specialise­d for hunting swiftly and striking fast, unlike what was previously believed,” he said.

 ?? Photo: Alex Bernardini (@Simplexpal­eo) ?? Vicious: This reconstruc­tion of an Anteosauru­s attacking a Moschognat­hus may be closer to the truth.
Photo: Alex Bernardini (@Simplexpal­eo) Vicious: This reconstruc­tion of an Anteosauru­s attacking a Moschognat­hus may be closer to the truth.

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