Rare venomous relative of mammals found

New York, Aug 16 (IANS) Venomousness is rare among mammals and their extinct relatives but scientists have now identified a new species of venomous relative of mammals in Zambia.

Named Ichibengops (meaning scarface due to a unique groove on the animal’s upper jaw), it is believed to be the size of a dachshund – a short-legged, long-bodied dog breed belonging to the hound family.

Ichibengops lived around 255 million years ago and was a member of Therocephalia, a group of ancient mammal relatives that survived the largest mass extinction in history (the Permian-Triassic extinction).

“Discoveries of new species of animals like Ichibengops are particularly exciting because they help us to better understand the group of animals that gave rise to mammals,” said Kenneth Angielczyk from the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

Only a handful of modern mammals produce venom, including the platypus and certain species of shrews.

“One interesting feature about this species is the presence of grooves above its teeth, which may have been used to transmit venom,” Angielczyk said.

Although the trait is uncommon, it may have proved advantageous to carnivores by enabling them to better capture prey and defend themselves.

“By studying the effects of the Permian-Triassic mass extinction and the subsequent recovery, we can apply the lessons we learn to the mass extinction being caused by humans today,” Angielczyk said.

The results were published in the Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology.

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