The largest rodent ever documented, an ancient creature closely related to guinea pigs but around the size of a buffalo, used its front teeth much like an elephant uses its tusks, new research concludes.
Scientists from the University of York and The Hull York Medical School used computer modeling to virtually reconstruct the skull of Josephoartigasia monesi to estimate how powerful the creature's bite could have been.
The team found that Josephoartigasia, which lived in South America about 3 million years ago, had a very powerful bite force, comparable to that of a tiger. But the researchers knew from earlier studies they'd performed that the incisors would actually have been able to withstand nearly triple that force.
This told the scientists that the ancient rodent's teeth were multipurpose, and a bit tusk-like in their functionality.
"We concluded that Josephoartigasia must have used its incisors for activities other than biting, such as digging in the ground for food, or defending itself from predators. This is very similar to how a modern day elephant uses its tusks," said Dr, Philip Cox, of the University of York.
The team's research has recently been published in the Journal of Anatomy.