An international team of palaeontologists led by Dr Juan Cisneros (PhD 2007) published a paper describing the oldest predator known from South America in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on 16 January 2012.
The paper is entitled Carnivorous dinocephalian from the Middle Permian of Brazil and tetrapod dispersal in Pangaea.
Dr Juan Cisneros (PhD 2007) discovered the fossil with Cesar Schultz from Brazil and Wits team members Dr Fernando Abdala, Professor Bruce Rubidge and Ms Saniye Atayman-Guven.
The animal described is a dinocephalian therapsid (mammal-like reptile), an ancient group of vertebrates that is distantly related to mammals. The fossil comprises a complete and well-preserved skull measuring 35cm in length.
Cisneros discovered the fossil in 2008 on a farm in the pampas region of Rio Grande do Sul, in southern Brazil; hence the species name Pampaphoneus biccai. The genus name means “pampas killer” (pampas are the flatlands of southern Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina). The species name honours José Bicca, landlord of the farm where the fossil site is located.
Rubidge, Director of the Bernard Price Institute (BPI) for Palaeontological Research at Wits says, “The new species from Brazil is very closely related to a South Africa dinocephalian known as Australosyodon which we discovered on a farm close to Prince Albert Road in the southern Karoo in the late 1980’s”.
The find is important for two reasons. Firstly, it is the oldest land-living flesh-eating animal yet discovered in South America and is about 265 million years old. Secondly, it provides new evidence of the continental configuration of the supercontinent of Pangaea in the Middle Permian Period.
The new discovery, which is very closely related to the carnivorous dinocephalians already known from Russia and South Africa, indicates the global distribution of terrestrial faunas in the super-continent of Pangaea already in the Middle Permian. This demonstrates that land-living vertebrate animals were able to move over land from Gondwana (south Pangaea) to Laurasia (north Pangaea) more than 260 million years ago.
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