A New, Terrifying, Ancient Species Discovered in Egypt
A new species of a prehistoric, four-legged, carnivorous whale was discovered by scientists in Egypt's Western Desert area, with the fossilized remains dating back 43 million years.
The skull shows strong, alligator-type jaws, perfect for tearing into flesh, with a bone-crushing capability resembling that of a jackal, earning it the name "Phiomicetus Anubis" after the Egyptian god of death.
The fossilized skeleton of the creature measures approximately 10 feet in length (not including its tail), with an estimated weight of over 1322 lbs. It had webbed feet, and was able to both walk on land and swim in the ocean.
Studying the fossils, the team of paleontologists noted the long, third incisors next to its canines, "which suggests that incisors and canines were used to catch, debilitate and retain faster and more elusive prey items, before they were moved to the cheek teeth to be chewed into smaller pieces and swallowed".
Large muscles in the head, coupled with the long jaw lined with rows of sharp teeth, indicates that the creature had a "raptor-like" feeding style, according to the study published in the peer-reviewed journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
“We discovered how fierce and deadly its powerful jaws are capable of tearing a wide range of prey ... this whale was a god of death to most of the animals that lived in its area,” - lead author of the study, Abdullah Gohar, a Cetacean paleobiologist, as reported by Insider magazine.
The area the fossil was discovered in is part of the Sahara Desert, in the Fayum Depression.
Maintained as a World Heritage site, the area is known as "Whale Valley', due to the proliferation of fossilized marine mammals that have been discovered there.
This discovery is an important link in the evolution of whales. Scientists know that whales originally evolved from land-locked creatures that resembled small deer, 50 million years ago. The creatures were herbivores at that point.
The evolution from land to sea creatures is still an area of some mystery, though scientists believe the complete transition from terrestrial to aquatic would have taken place over roughly 10 million years.
Although this discovery is not the first fossil found of a whale with legs, it is the earliest known whale to be found in Africa.
In 2011, a four-legged ancient whale fossil was discovered in Peru, and was described as having both hooves and webbed feet, with a large and powerful tail used to propel it through the water.
Whales were thought to have originated in South Asia, and these discoveries are providing clues to scientists as to how the creatures adapted to the ocean, with fossils telling the tale of migration from South Asia to North Africa, North America and South America.
"Whales are this iconic example of evolution. They went from small, hoofed mammals to the blue whale we have today. It's so interesting to see how they conquered the oceans." - Travis Park, an ancient whale researcher at the Natural History Museum in London.
The team of scientists who made the discovery was led by Mohamed Sameh Antar. Antar was joined by paleontologists Abdullah Gohar and Hesham Sallam in analyzing the remains and publishing their findings.
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