STL Science Center

STL Science Center

27 November 2017

Macdonald's Dog

As we mentioned on Saturday, J. R. Macdonald named a large number of mammals from the Oligocene using the Sioux language prominently in his papers. One of these mammals is the hesperocyonid canine Sunkahetanka geringensis Barbour and Schultz, 1935. The name means "Large-toothed Dog" though the Sioux words are actually constructed in reverse order here. The specific epithet refers to the formation from which the specimen originated; the Gering Fromation of Nebraska. Macdonald also provided a pronunciation guide for Sunkahetanka: Sung-kah Hee Tahn-kah. The teeth of this hesperocyonid are actually enormous compared to many other contemporary canids and others within the family tree. The skull is short and wide with robust zygomatic arches and what Macdonald describes as a massive mandible. The massive teeth, jaws, and well built skull lead Macdonald and others to hypothesize the diet of Sunkahetanka to have consisted of anything it was capable of catching or finding. This includes scavenging bones similarly to the manner in which hyenas do now. This is facilitated, of course, by the enormous teeth and the massively built skull in which they are operated. Unlike last week's Leptocyon, Sunkahetanka looked much more like a wolf or a large dog as we now think of them. At a weight estimated (by Legendre and Roth 1988) using tooth size of between 12.8 kg (28 lb) and 13.8 kg (30 lb), Sunkahetanka was about the size of a large beagle (I prefer thinking of basenjis; points to people that know them). This is considerably smaller than a wolf, but imagine a beagle sized animal that could crack and break bones.
©Ghedoghedo via Wikicommons

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