Friday, 1 January 2010

Therocephalians; like Gorgonopsids, but venemous!

Therocephalians have been featured on the BBC television series Walking With Monsters where an unidentified Therocephalian attacks a herd of pig like Lystrosaurus. Like the Gorgonopsids Therocephalians were mammal like reptiles, very similar to the Gorgons.

These animals were smaller in size, but some types possessed a deadly weapon. The teeth of the Therocephalian Euchambersia possess a unique feature only found in venomous animals. The canines possess grooves connected to an opening in the upper jaw where a venom gland may have been housed. These tooth grooves may have been used to channel the venom from the gland at the base of the tooth and into the wound created when the canines pierced the skin of its prey. Euchambersia lived in South Africa during the late Permian period 250 million years ago. During this time the larger Gorgonopsids were also around, probably competing for the same resources.

Above; Euchambersia had a cat like face, it turns out that it hunted like one too. Using its canines to grip prey untill it died.

In Russia at about the same time as Euchambersia lived Megawhaitsia, a larger animal about the same size as the big Gorgonopsids. It indeed did compete with them successfully, as is shown by the lack of Gorgons found in the same fossil sites.

The canine teeth of Therocephalians appear long, but more rounded than those of the Gorgons. This suggests that they were not used for slicing and tearing, but more simply puncturing the skin and gripping. In the case of the venomous Euchambersia it is clear that the teeth merely needed to scratch the surface for a split second and the prey would inevitably die. This method of hunting allowed for a much more energy saving attack, rather than having to keep wounding large prey untill it died like the Gorgonopsids.

The shape of the skull can tell us of the jaw musculature in Therocephalians. We now know that the bite was very firm, unlike the Gorgons which had the initial strength concentrated at the beginning of the bite, leaving inertia to close the jaws in its final stages.

All of this combined with the short and cat like appearence of the jaws suggests that Therocephalians like Euchambersia probably snatched small reptiles in an ambush, using the firm jaws and long round canines to grip the prey untill it died. The prescence of venom in Euchambersia merely sped up the process, leaving less time for the prey to fight back.

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