FunNature & AnimalRemains of wolf-like hyena discovered in China

Remains of wolf-like hyena discovered in China

A team of paleontologists from the University of California, Berkeley, in the United States, has announced the discovery of fossils of an aardwolf-like creature dating from 12 to 15 million years ago during the Miocene epoch.

The research team has christened this aardwolf-like hyena Gansuena megalotis and represents the closest transformational relationship to the termite-eating antwolf ( Proteles cristatus ) to date.

A wolf that eats termites

The cometermite wolf ( Proteus crystatus ) or ant wolf still lives today.

Of the nearly 100 known and endangered hyenas, all hyenas are carnivorous or omnivorous. But there is a rare species that mysteriously chooses to eat termites, namely the termite-eating wolf. Now we have found your connection.

“Aardvarks are hyenas, but they’re actually the weirdest hyenas because they don’t do what other hyenas, living or extinct, do,” explains Jack Tseng, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and co-author of the study published in the journal Vertebrata PalAsiatica. “They’re termite specialists, which couldn’t be further from the other hyenas in terms of their ability to crush bones or cut up meat. So the anteater has always been a really curious mammal that ecologists and paleontologists alike think about. They have tried to learn more.

Solving riddles of nature

Hyenas originated about 22 million years ago, and the aardvark apparently arose about 15 million years ago, according to an analysis of its genetic divergence from the other three living hyena species. The discovery of two fossilized skulls of this wolf-like hyena shed light on this mystery.

According to the team, the skulls of ancient hyenas have a wide palate, like the antwolf, possibly to accommodate a larger, more muscular tongue with which to suck up termites. The teeth also have wider gaps, like those of the antwolf, suggesting that Gansuyaena megalotis was moving away from a diet based on cutting meat.

While not claiming that Gansuyaena megalotis was a direct ancestor of the ant wolf, the researchers do conclude that the ancient animal is the closest fossil yet to the ant wolf, and shows signs of having drifted from a flesh-and-blood lifestyle to something closest to insectivores.

“With these fossils, we can start to ask the question, ‘How does an otherwise highly specialized meat-eating lineage have a member, an odd cousin, that started down this totally different path of becoming a specialized insectivore, a termite specialist?’ Now, we have the starting point and the ending point , which is today. The next step is to find out what happened in the intervening 10 million years of this lineage ,” the researchers wonder.

Reference: Henry Galiano et al. 2022. A new aardwolf-line fossil hyena from Middle and Late Miocene deposits of Linxia Basin, Gansu, China. PalAsiatic Vertebrates 60(2): 81-116; doi: 10.19615/j.cnki.2096–9899.211025

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