Paleontological expeditions in Colombia’s Tatacoa Desert recently unveiled the most intact skeleton of a “saber-toothed marsupial” discovered in northern South America.
The specimen belongs to Anachlysictis gracilis, a species within the sparassodonts, a group of extinct predatory mammals that thrived in South America during the Cenozoic era following the dinosaur extinction.
Around 13 million years ago, A. gracilis inhabited the area now known as ‘La Venta,’ within the current La Tatacoa desert. Dr. Catalina Suarez, leading the analysis of the remains and publication of their findings in Geodiversitas, describes this locale as a former tropical rainforest similar to today’s Amazon.
This discovery significantly adds to prior limited findings of A. gracilis, enhancing our knowledge of the marsupial’s characteristics and its place among South America’s terrestrial carnivores, akin to present-day pumas, wildcats, and foxes.
Dr. Suarez, a Swiss National Science Foundation fellow, commenced her research under paleontologist Carlos Jaramillo at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, becoming a metatherian specialist focusing on marsupials and their extinct relatives, including the Thylacosmilidae family to which A. gracilis belongs.
Dr. Javier Luque, co-author of the study, and former STRI fellow confirms A. gracilis’s close relation to Thylacosmilus, recognized as the most prominent “saber-tooth marsupial.” Together with Patagosmilus, these groups form the Thylacosmilidae family, distinguished by their distinctive curved saber-shaped upper canines.
Analyzing the teeth and mandible of the remains revealed A. gracilis to be a hypercarnivore, consuming only meat, primarily preying on small mammals like marsupials, rodents, and even abundant primates in the region.
Future studies will explore other skeletal remains to unveil details about its locomotion, head positioning, and abilities, offering insights into its behavior and ecological niche.
The exceptional fossil of A. gracilis is housed in the La Tatacoa Natural History Museum, representing an essential artifact for understanding this predatory marsupial’s life around 13 million years ago.
Dr. Edwin Cadena, co-author of the study, emphasizes the fossil’s significance for comprehending the evolutionary history and biodiversity of the Neotropics. This research, an international collaboration among experts from various institutions across Argentina, Colombia, the United States, Japan, Panama, and the United Kingdom, underscores the importance of supporting paleontological endeavors in the Neotropics for further discoveries.
Header Image Credit : Daniella Carvalho and Aldo Benites-Palomino