An artist’s conception shows the dicynodont species known as Dicynodon. (Illustration by Marlene Hill Donnelly)
Dental exams conducted on fossils from more than 200 million years ago suggest that the earliest true tusks were sported by breeds of weird-looking creatures known as dicynodonts.
The evidence, laid out today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, could shed light on how species ranging from elephants and walruses to warthogs and rabbit-like hyraxes came to have tusks.
“Tusks have evolved a number of times, which makes you wonder how — and why?” study co-author Christian Sidor, a biology professor at the University of Washington and a curator at UW’s Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, said in a news release. “We now have good data on the anatomical changes that needed to happen for dicynodonts to evolve tusks. For other groups, like warthogs or walruses, the jury is still out.”
Dicynodonts, which existed in the Permian and Triassic eras from 270 million to 201 million years ago, appear to be the earliest group of animals possessing tusks. Their label comes from the Greek term for “two canine teeth.” The various species ranged in size between present-day rats and elephants. They’re ...