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How did this front-toothed predator see the future?

At the beginning of the Pliocene, South America was isolated from the rest of the world for millions of years and very specific animals evolved there. The carnivores that occupy this vast island count among their formidable ranks Thylacosmilus, with fearsome saber teeth. But these huge canines have a drawback, they take up so much space on the carnivore’s skull, that scientists wonder how they can be seen so well in front of them!

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The predator is commonly referred to as a “saber-toothed marsupial” and is part of a group of carnivores called Sparassodonta, which are actually closely related to modern marsupials. During the isolation of the South American continent, they were the main carnivorous mammals. Thylacosmilustheir most famous representative who lived between 9 and 3 million years before our era, certainly have impressive fangs, but they raise a major question.

bovine predator

The primary difference between carnivores and herbivores is the position of the eyes. While it must watch prey constantly in all directions and often has its eyes positioned laterally on the skull, predators instead make use of stereoscopic vision to be able to estimate distances. Their eyes are therefore directed forward and ensure a strong convergence of their fields of vision, so that the brain can create a three-dimensional image. However, the position of the orbitals Thylacosmilus He crashes by planting his huge fangs. These are not only asymmetrical, but they also grow continuously, like the incisors of a rodent, so that they fit perfectly into the top of the marsupial’s skull and leave very little room for the eye ducts to be facing forward.

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Profound adaptations to the orbital zone are often seen in saber-toothed predators, such as the famously toothed feline (among them Smilodonbut also HoplophonusAnd Macherodos or Megantron), but Thylacosmilus It is an extreme case. So, a hundred-kilogram predator finds itself side-eyed, while scientists assume that it was an overeating carnivore, that is, its diet consisted of at least 70% of meat. How can these two seemingly opposite characteristics be reconciled? That’s what researchers are from American Museum of Natural History AndInstituto Argentino de Nivología, Glaciología, y Ciencias Ambientales from Mendoza, Argentina, whose study recently appeared in Communication biology.

Their work has shown that the overlap of the fields of view of the eyes of metatherans is actually very low for a carnivore, about 35 degrees, while for a cat it is 65 degrees. but Thylacosmilus He might not have been able to see in 3D either, because other parameters are taken into account when stereoscopy estimates vision. The anterior and vertical orientation (see diagram above) must also be taken into account, the orientation of the orbits relative to the two horizontal axes of the skull, which are quite high in our predatory animal. This allows it to increase its overlap with ” The field of view is approximately 70 degrees Analia Vorasibi, co-author of the study, explains, It was clearly enough to make him an accomplished predator “.