The earliest ancestor of land-dwelling plant eaters has been found, a new study reports, and there's a surprising fact about the beastie: it was a meat lover.
If you often bite into a juicy steak, burger or other meat, you might wonder why such an animal would have transitioned to become an herbivore in the first place. The answer is that there was a lot of plant-based food for the taking.
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"The evolution of herbivory was revolutionary to life on land because it meant terrestrial vertebrates could directly access the vast resources provided by terrestrial plants," paleontologist Robert Reisz, a professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Toronto Mississauga, said in a press release. "These herbivores, in turn, became a major food resource for large land predators."
The newly discovered ancestor of the first terrestrial carnivores has been named Eocasea martinis. Its skeleton, which was just about 6.5 inches long, belonged to a juvenile that lived in what is now Kansas 300 million years ago. That's nearly 80 million years before the age of dinosaurs.