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This 12 Million Year-Old Dog May Not Have Been Man’s Best Friend

Illustration of Cynarctus by Mauricio Antón from 'Dogs, Their Fossil Relatives and Evolutionary History.'
Illustration of Cynarctus by Mauricio Antón from 'Dogs, Their Fossil Relatives and Evolutionary History.'

The discovery of a 12 million year-old dog fossil has placed yet another species on the growing list of discoveries. However, this dog that lived in a time when the massive megalodon shark roamed in the oceans would not have been man’s best friend.

The new canine species has been named Cynarctus wangi, named after Xiaoming Wang a curator at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and a renowned expert on mammalian carnivores.

This coyote-sized dog was a member of the extinct subfamily Borophaginae, commonly known as bone-crushing dogs because of their powerful jaws and broad teeth. Unlike modern dogs it would have lived like a “mini-bear” with a diet of plants, insects, and meat, and is believed to have had a formidable bite.

Steven E. Jasinski. (Image: UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA)

Steven E. Jasinski. (Image: UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA)

The study’s lead author, Steven E. Jasinski, a student in the Department of Earth and Environmental Science in Penn’s School of Arts & Sciences, said in a statement:

The fossil specimen was found in Maryland by an amateur collector on the beach under the Choptank Formation in Maryland’s Calvert Cliffs region. Fossils found from this region and time period are relatively rare, so when one is found it helps to fill in important missing pieces of what prehistoric life was like on North American’s East Coast, Jasinski said:

Calvert Cliffs State Park - Lusby, Maryland. (Image: Doug Kerr via Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Calvert Cliffs State Park – Lusby, Maryland. (Image: Doug Kerr via Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Paleontologists speculate that modern canines — like wolves or coyotes — probably out-competed the bone crushers to extinction. It’s also understood the Cynarctus wangi would have lived beside ancient animals, which would have included ancient pigs, an elephant-like animal known as a gomphothere.

The C. wangi represents the first known carnivore from the Choptank Formation, however some of the animals that it would have lived beside it include the ancient pigs Desmathyus and Prosthenops, the horned artiodactyl Prosynthetoceras, an ancient elephant-like animal known as a gomphothere, and perhaps the ancient horse Merychippus.

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