Prowling the deserts of Egypt around 30 million years ago, a newly described species of carnivore was once at the top of the food chain. With powerful jaws and ferocious teeth, the dog-like predator likely chased its prey down, before devouring the unlucky victim.
Due to its canine appearance, its penchant for death, and its discovery in the land of the ancient gods, the researchers have named the new carnivore after the concierge of the underworld, Anubis. Described in the journal PLOS One, Masrasector nanaubis belonged to a now extinct group of diverse carnivores, some of which chased their prey into trees, while others kept their four paws firmly on the ground.
About the size of a skunk, M. nanaubis belonged to a group of predators known as hyaenodonts. For much of the Paleogene, which started immediately after the demise of the dinosaurs and persisted for 43 million years, hyaenodonts were the dominant terrestrial predators across much of Africa and the Middle East.
The skull of the new species discovered in Egypt. Matthew Borths
Ranging in size from small dog-like creatures to massive 500-kilogram (over 1,000 pounds) beasts, these hypercarnivores were the apex predators of the time, hunting down and devouring the herbivorous mammals that diversified in the absence of dinosaurs. This latest discovery is of importance because as this group of animals originated in North Africa, it helps answer questions as to how they became so diverse as a group.
Despite having ranged across much of Africa, Europe, Asia, and even making it into North America, the massively successful group eventually bit the dust, with no members surviving into the modern day. They were largely replaced by the cats and dogs that now fill that niche, but whether or not the modern carnivorans were the cause of the hyaenodonts' decline, or simply exploited their absence in ecosystems, is still not well understood.
“Hyaenodonts were the the top predators in Africa after the extinction of the dinosaurs,” explained Matthew Borths, who co-authored the latest study, in a statement. “This new species is associated with a dozen specimens, including skulls and arm bones, which means we can explore what it ate, how it moved, and consider why these carnivorous mammals died off as the relatives of dogs, cats, and hyenas moved into Africa.”
Based on the remains recovered, the researchers think that this latest species was a solely terrestrial predator that would have been able to move quite swiftly as it hunted down its unfortunate prey, before delivering them to the underworld, where perhaps its namesake would have then taken over the proceedings.