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Ancient “Hell Pigs” With Massive Teeth Are Actually Misunderstood Omnivores

But I'm just an entelodont whose intentions are good...

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Eleanor Higgs

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clockJan 25 2023, 15:57 UTC
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Skull and Illustration of an Archaeotherium mortoni

Skull and illustration of Archaeotherium mortoni. Image Credit: Rivals, F., et al., Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology (2023) / Ralf Juergen Kraft/Shutterstock.com

Two ancient, funky-looking mammals, anthracotheres and entelodonts, have been the subject of a new study looking at their teeth. Anthracotheres bear some resemblance to modern-day pigs and hippos and are thought to have had a diet of fruits and foliage. Entelodonts, also known as “hell pigs”, had powerful heads, were thought to crush bones like hyenas, and were believed to have an opportunistic diet where they hunted large herbivores and scavenged. 

By looking closely at the way the teeth have been worn away, and comparing the fossil samples to modern-day mammals such as bears, otters, and lions, the team have suggested different diets than previously thought for both anthracotheres and entelodont species.

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In the microwear dental analysis of the two species, the pits, scratches, and gouges on the fossil teeth were looked at using a stereomicroscope. The anthracotherium sp. had more pits, wider gouges, and wider scratches than Entelodon magnus. Entelodon magnus had more puncture pits and more cross scratches across the surface of the teeth in the sample. 

Different fossil teeth on a black background
Anthracothere and entelodont tooth remains. Image Credit: Rivals, F., et al. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology (2023)


Entelodonts were large mammals that roamed around in the Oligocene and early Miocene. They typically had large skulls, with large canines and incisors; this suggests that they had a powerful bite similar to carnivores. However, by looking specifically at the microwear of the dentition, the study revealed that entelodonts had an omnivore's diet quite similar to that of a wild boar, but not the same as a predator like a brown bear. 

They suggest that the microwear pattern on the teeth shows that Entelodon magnus did not hunt large herbivores or crush bones as previously thought.

The microwear analysis of the anthracotheres shows that they are thought to be opportunistic herbivores with some species grazing and some eating a mainly fruit-based diet. 

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The paper is published in Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology.


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