This 12-Million-Year-Old Dog May Not Have Been Man’s Best Friend

A drawing of cynarctus wangi.

A 12 million year-old dog fossil from a member of an extinct species gives insight into what the ecosystem of eastern North America was like at that time. (Image: via University of Pennsylvania)

The discovery of a 12-million-year-old dog fossil has placed yet another species on the growing list of discoveries. However, this dog, which lived in a time when the massive megalodon shark roamed in the oceans, would not have been man’s best friend.

The new canine species has been named Cynarctus wangi, named after Xiaoming Wang, a curator at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and a renowned expert on mammalian carnivores.

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This coyote-sized animal was a member of the extinct subfamily Borophaginae, commonly known as bone-crushing dogs because of their powerful jaws and broad teeth. Unlike modern dogs, it would have lived like a “mini-bear” with a diet of plants, insects, and meat, and is believed to have had a formidable bite.

Steven E. Jasinski at a dig site.
The study’s lead author, Steven E. Jasinski. (Image: via University of Pennsylvania)

The study’s lead author, Steven E. Jasinski, a student in the Department of Earth and Environmental Science in Penn’s School of Arts & Sciences, said in a statement:

“Based on its teeth, probably only about a third of its diet would have been meat.

“It would have supplemented that by eating plants or insects, living more like a mini-bear than like a dog.”

The 12-million-year-old dog fossil found by an amateur collector

The fossil specimen was found in Maryland by an amateur collector on the beach under the Choptank Formation in Maryland’s Calvert Cliffs region. Fossils found from this region and time period are relatively rare, so when one is found, it helps to fill in important missing pieces of what prehistoric life was like on North America’s East Coast. Jasinski said:

 “Most fossils known from this time period represent marine animals, who become fossilized more easily than animals on land.

“It is quite rare we find fossils from land animals in this region during this time, but each one provides important information for what life was like then.

“This new dog gives us useful insight into the ecosystem of eastern North America between 12 and 13 million years ago.”

The fossil specimen of the 12-million-year-old dog was found on the beach in Maryland’s Calvert Cliffs region.
The fossil specimen was found on the beach in Maryland’s Calvert Cliffs region. (Image: Doug Kerr via Wikimedia Commons)

Paleontologists speculate that modern canines — like wolves or coyotes — probably out-competed the bone crushers to extinction. It’s also understood the Cynarctus wangi would have lived beside ancient animals, which would have included ancient pigs and an elephant-like animal known as a gomphothere.

C. wangi represents the first known carnivore from the Choptank Formation, however, some of the animals that it would have lived beside include the ancient pigs Desmathyus and Prosthenops, the horned artiodactyl Prosynthetoceras, an ancient elephant-like animal known as a gomphothere, and perhaps the ancient horse Merychippus.

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