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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Prehistoric Mammal Week: Andrewsarchus.

When you're a paleontologist, squeamishness around skulls is not an option. Skulls tell you a lot. Was it a mammal based on the earbones and jaw? Did it eat plants, meat, or both? What were its strongest senses? How much space did it have for its brain? Hell, it's possible to theorize what an animal looked like based on the skull alone.

http://scienceblogs.com/tetrapodzoology/Andrewsarchus_NHM_cast_9-8-2009.jpg

That's exactly what happened to Andrewsarchus mongoliensis. All we have from Andrewsarchus is one skull found in Mongolia, forever preserved in the American Museum of Natural History. It is three feet (approx. a meter) long from the tip of its snout to the base of its head. From that skull alone, we can tell that it was a mammalian carnivore.

A very big mammalian carnivore.

Andrewsarchus was the biggest mammalian carnivore that ever walked the earth. From the skull we have, we can guess that it was probably 6 feet high and 11 feet long from snout to pelvis. This is not counting how much it weighed. We would need a more complete skeleton to determine its build and weight.

The jaws of Andrewsarchus may have been the strongest of any mammal. Although not adapted for shearing, its jaws were capable of crushing bone, mollusc shells, and turtle shells. If we later find that it ate plants as well as meat, Andrewsarchus may have led a lifestyle similar to entelodonts - the 'terminator pigs' or 'hell pigs.' It lived around the same time as the brontotheres (Eocene), and probably ate them dead or alive.
Who's afraid of the Big Bad Not-Wolf?

Andrewsarchus probably had hoof-like paws as well. How do we know this? Wellll, stay tuned; tomorrow's beast will provide the answer to how we know a lot about Andrewsarchus, despite only having a skull...

...on a side note, this guy (under the name Andarch) was one of the authoress's favorite Vivosaurs to use in Fossil Fighters. Please help her get a 3DS by donating to the tip jar or clicking on the ads. This has been the first shameless plug on the blog aside from the tip jar itself, so it's not like we're nagging. 

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