look out! it’s a sabre-toothed vegetarian!

Vicious killer or cuddly-wuddly plant muncher?

New discovery turns long established assumptions on their (strangely shaped) heads

Picture courtesy of http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2011/03/25/odd-ancient-beast-saber-toothed-vegetarian/#

The local paper yesterday ran an interesting article which has been picked up by several news sites about the recent discovery of an ancient sabre-toothed vegetarian animal, the tiarajudens eccentricus.

Its fangs, rather than indicating a flesh-tearing diet, are pegged to have been used to defend themselves and their territory against predators. The article goes on to give modern examples of the musk deer and water deer who have similar jaw structures for this purpose.

This raises interesting questions about the assumptions we make – about animals and ourselves. I’ve often heard the argument (usually made by someone holding a burger and a beer) that, since humans have incisors and canines, we are clearly meant to eat meat. The mass of molars behind them and the distinct wussiness of our pitiful “claws” (which I daresay seem more suited to picking fruit than ripping flesh) are left behind in this argument. But then I’m not a scientist.

But now real scientists seem to have begun to reconcile this conundrum. The rest of the tiarajudens eccentricus’s jaw indicates a diet of plant chewing and the fossil has been categorised as an anomodant, a group of plant eaters.

When dinosaur fossils were first discovered, the general reaction was disbelief. Similarly there is sure to be incredulous backlash to this finding. But who knows – perhaps this is the start of a totally new understanding of history, diet, and social interaction.

I’m watching this space.

Read more about the tiarajudens eccentricus here

Picture courtesy http://www.sify.com/news/archaeologists-discover-saber-toothed-vegetarian-news-environment+and+nature-ld2batffjgi.html