Evidence of a therapsid scavenger in the Late Permian Karoo Basin, South Africa
Dicynodonts are an extinct group of herbivorous non-mammalian therapsids (‘mammal-like’ reptiles) that are widely known from terrestrial Permo-Triassic strata throughout Pangaea. Dicynodont fossil remains are common within the Late Permian Beaufort Group of the Karoo Basin in South Africa. A large, partially articulated dicynodont skeleton recovered from the Tropidostoma Assemblage Zone is taphonomically important in having an unusual disarticulation pattern, bone surface punctures and a broken tooth of an unidentified carnivore associated with it. Here we report on the nature of the bone damage, and the identity of the carnivore that lost a canine tooth whilst scavenging the dicynodont carcass. The morphological characteristics of the serrations on the unidentified tooth were compared with those of contemporaneous carnivores, the gorgonopsians and therocephalians. Scanning electron microscopy analysis of a silicone cast of the unidentified tooth revealed distinctive 0.5-mm square-shaped serrations. Our comparative assessment of the tooth size, curvature, cross-sectional shape and morphology of the serrations revealed that the unidentified canine most closely matched Aelurognathus, a gorgonopsian known from the same assemblage zone.