24 November 2015
Why those Teeth?
What makes an animal develop the way it does is not as much of a mystery as it once seemed to be, but with an animal like Thylacosmilus there is still a healthy dose of skeptically looking at the teeth and thinking something like "Why would you possibly find that to be a beneficial morphology?" Plenty of researchers worldwide that are interested in either marsupials or carnivorans have asked many questions about the teeth of Thylacosmilus. The teeth of the morphologically similar saber-toothed cats are well studied and their extension beyond the mandible "makes sense" in comparison with that of Thylacosmilus. However, despite the clearly evident amazing morphology of these sabers, there are very few highly publicized papers on the dentition of these carnivores. That paper is actually an overview paper of many taxa, but it is still worth a read. Instead, research on the animal has focused on the brain, the ear (knowing how well a carnivore heard is integral to knowing aspects of their hunting ecology), and the postcranial skeleton. I admit that knowing the postcranial skeleton is very important for a variety of reasons (e.g. knowing that the animal was a marsupial, body shape), but there are a lot of different areas of this animal that continue to be very interesting. One of the best sources for today is, as most scientific books are, a relatively rare and harder to find text. The book is called Predators with Pouches and, while not a perfect source, covers Thylacosmilus quite well. Covering man extant animals, it also discusses extinct marsupial predators and does an acceptable job. Unfortunately, even the electronic book is over $140, which is normal for low volume scientific books. However, check out what can be seen online and try to enjoy it, even when a page you want to read is missing.