Say hello to this little predator: Tiny ‘Scarface’ dinosaur may have packed venom in its teeth
Researchers have discovered a previously unknown species of pre-mammalian predator that they are calling Ichibengops munyamadziensis, the “Scarface of the Munyamadzi River.”
According to University of Washington Today, a team of UW researchers found fossils that led to the discovery of Ichibengops munyamadziensis in Zambia in 2009. The team was led by UW biologist Christian Sidor, who is also the curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture.
The team announced their discovery in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, deriving its name from the local Bemba people’s word for scar, “ichibenga.” The “Scarface” dinosaur, which was about the size of a wiener dog, had a distinctive groove in its upper mandible, hence its name.
“Discoveries of new species of animals like Ichibengops are particularly exciting because they help us to better understand the group of animals that gave rise to mammals,” said one of the study’s senior authors, Kenneth Angielczyk of Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History.
The team found skull fossils of Ichibengops in 2009, but did not realize at the time that they had found evidence of a new species of therocephalian, or “beast head,” the most mammal-like of dinosaurs.
“One interesting feature about this species in particular is the presence of grooves above its teeth, which may have been used to transmit venom,” said Angielczyk.
Today, the only mammalian animals that produce venom are the duck-billed platypus and certain species of shrew.
“There is only one other therocephalian that seems to show indications of being venomous,” said Sidor; the extinct therocephalian Euchambersia. “However, it’s very difficult to assess function in fossils, so we can never be 100 percent certain.”
The team estimates that the creatures lived about 252 million years ago in the Earths Permian Period. That period came to an end with a cataclysmic mass extinction that preceded the Triassic period, which we know as the beginning of the “age of dinosaurs.”
“In the grand scheme of things, therocephalians did quite well, considering that they didn’t go extinct at the Permian-Triassic mass extinction,” Sidor said. “However, their diversity was greatly decreased and the group never fully recovered. They went extinct about 8 million years later.”