A 12-million-year-old fossil unearthed in Maryland represents a new dog species with a strong bite.
In a study published in the Journal of Paleontology, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania describe Cynarctus wangi, a creature roughly the size of a modern coyote that likely would have behaved a bit like a hyena.
The canid lived during the middle Miocene and was part of an extinct family of dogs known as bone crushers, due to their strong jaws and big teeth.
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The "bone crusher" family of dogs (Borophaginae) lived all over North America between 10 million to 30 million years ago. The researchers think the new dog likely went the way of extinction because it wasn't able to compete with the ancestors of modern wolves, coyotes and foxes.
Notwithstanding the fierce nickname of its overarching family, the scientists don't think C. wangi was 100-percent carnivorous. Its teeth lead the researchers to believe about two-thirds of the dog's meals would have been non-meat, the animal getting by on plants and insects and "living more like a mini-bear than like a dog," according to the study's lead author, Penn doctoral student Steven E. Jasinski.
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The specimen was found in the Choptank Formation of Maryland's Calvert Cliffs, on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay.
According to Jasinski, the location of the find was especially significant, offering a new window into the North America of 12 to 13 million years ago. Fossils from the region and time in history, he said, tend to be of seafaring creatures.
"Most fossils known from this time period represent marine animals, who become fossilized more easily than animals on land," he said in a statement. "It is quite rare we find fossils from land animals in this region during this time, but each one provides important information for what life was like then."