Carnivorous Pre-Mammal Species Dubbed 'Scarface' Identified

First Posted: Aug 14, 2015 05:48 PM EDT

Researchers at The Field Museum have discovered a new species of pre-mammal in what is now Zambia. A unique groove on the animal's upper jaw revealed its unique distinction, with researchers dubbing it Ichibengops, which combines the local Bemba word for scar (ichibenga), and the common Greek suffix for face (ops). In other words, you might just call it Scarface. 

"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 Field Museum's Kenneth Angielczyk, PhD, associate curator of paleomammalogy, in a news release. "One interesting feature about this species in particular is the presence of grooves above its teeth, which may have been used to transmit venom."

Though venomouseness is particularly rare among extinct mammals, there have been just a few extinct ones that may have also been venomous, including the therocephalian, Euchambersia. However, researchers note that even among ancient mammal relatives, this was likely an exception to the rule. Though an uncommon trait, it may have been an advantage for carnivores when it came to capturing prey and defending themselves. 

Though we have to wonder a bit about the Ichibengops, which is believed to have been pretty tiny, gracing the earth around 255 million years back. Scientists think it was probably comparable to the size of a dachshund. Then again, it belonged to to Therocephalia--a group of ancient mammal relatives that survived the largest mass extinction in history (the Permian-Triassic extinction).

One thing's for certain. By learning more about this and other similar creatures, scientists can also learn more about the Permian-Triassic mass extinction and the subsequent recovery and more. 

"... we can apply the lessons we learn to the mass extinction being caused by humans today," said Angielczyk. 

More information regarding the findings can be seen via the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

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