Herbivores Teeth Were More Fearsome than we Initially Thought

By Liceth Alarcon Cuevas, age 13

When you hear the term herbivores, you might think of calm, docile creatures that eat plants, such as bunnies and deer. But this was challenged when scientists discovered a new fossil species: Tiarajudens eccentricus.

Tiarajudens eccentricus is a 260-million-year-old fossil. This new species, slightly larger than a wild pig, is part of an extinct group called therapsids. These mammal-like reptiles were the most abundant four-footed species during the Permian period. Paleontologists found Tiarajudens eccentricus in southern Brazil, near the borders of Uruguay and Argentina.

This short-snouted species had three very distinctive sets of teeth: top and bottom teeth that fit together like human teeth, another set running down the middle of its mouth, and long canines like those of a saber-toothed cat. The top and bottom teeth allowed it to chew with ease. This was important because it was an herbivore. Researchers suspect that its long canines were used by males to fight others of the same species, or to ward off predators.

The teeth surprised researchers for many reasons. Not only were top and bottom teeth that fit together unusual for this time but also unusual was the way they used their canines. Researchers had thought that canine teeth first appeared in modern herbivores, and were surprised to learn that this ancient species got there first.

This new discovery is making scientists rethink what they believed they knew about the evolution of herbivores, their teeth and survival strategies.

[Source: The New York Times]

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