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Scientists Discover New Ancient "Kitten-Sized" Killer

Update Date: May 09, 2014 01:29 AM EDT

Scientists have discovered a new ancient species of kitten-sized hunters. While the predator lived in Bolivia about 13 million years ago, scientists said that it is one of the smallest species reported in the extinct order Sparassodonta.
Researchers Russell Engelman and Darin Croft, a Case Western anatomy professor, made the discovery by studying a partial skull that had been left in a university library for more than thirty years.
"The animal would have been about the size of a marten, a catlike weasel found in the Northeastern United States and Canada, and probably filled the same ecological niche," said Engelman, an evolutionary biology major from Russell Township, Ohio, said in a news release.
Researchers said that the skull was a little less than 3 inches long if complete, indicating that the animal possessed a very short snout. The animal is believed to be similar to the modern Australian spotted-tailed quoll as it possesses a socket in the upper jaw indicating canines of a similar shape.
Researchers believe that the ancient animal fed on the ancestors of modern guinea pigs and spiny rats.
"Most predators don't go after animals of equal size, but these features indicate this small predator was a formidable hunter," Croft said in a statement.
"No single feature found in the skull was so distinctive that we could say one way or the other what it was," Croft said, "but the combination of features is unique and says this is a sparassodont."
The study was published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

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