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Diet of Dimetrodon reconsidered: extinct reptilelike predator ate sharks, other aquatic prey.

Dimetrodon chowed down on sharks and amphibians like a prehistoric Pac-Man.

Rather than dining on plant eaters, the reptilelike carnivore ate mainly aquatic animals, chomping big bites out of amphibians' heads as they peeped up out of their burrows, paleontologist Robert Bakker reported October 14.

"It's cool and exciting because it's completely different from what people thought," said Stephen Hobe, a paleontology student at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis.

Dimetrodon, one of the first big land predators, was the size of a small crocodile, with a snub nose, sharp teeth and a towering fin on its back. The creature lived about 280 million years ago--some 50 million years before the dinosaurs.

Bakker and colleagues have spent 11 years cataloging the bones and teeth in a Dimetrodon-laden fossil pit near Seymour, Texas. The pit, nearly the length of two football fields, includes ancient ponds and floodplains. Bakker's team has dug up 39 Dimetrodon specimens, but only one each of Edaphosaurus and Diadectes--large herbivores thought to be prime Dimetrodon cuisine.

That's not nearly enough food to sustain such a large population of predators, said project member Christopher Flis, a paleontologist at the Whiteside Museum of Natural History in Seymour. Other animals must have made up the difference, he said.

The team unearthed the remains of 134 small sharks and the dismembered skulls of 88 Diplocaulus, an amphibian with a bulky, boomerang-shaped head. The researchers found loads of Dimetrodon teeth buried amid the chewed-up bones.

The predator probably used its teeth to pull amphibians out of the ground--like a gardener yanking up carrots.

Caption: The ancient amphibian Diplocaulus probably served as a prime food source for Dimetrodon, which chomped bites out of the aquatic animals' snouts, as shown in this Diplocaulus fossil.

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Title Annotation:LIFE & EVOLUTION
Author:Rosen, Meghan
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief article
Date:Nov 14, 2015
Words:300
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