Recent Fossil Discovery Giant Carnivore – Simbakubwa Kutokaafrika

Fossil Found in Drawer Simbakubwa Kutokaafrika
Artist rendering of Simbakubwa Kutokaafrika

Normally we discuss here fossil discoveries which have been known for decades, sometimes centuries, with ongoing discussion today. Today we are talking about a fossil that is a little different, Simbakubwa Kutokaafrika.    Simbakubwa has only been discovered this decade at the Nairobi National Museum in Kenya. Matthew Borths found a jawbone of Simbakubwa in a drawer marked as “hyenas”, and while the dental structure of this new species is similar to modern-day hyenas, the two are clearly very different species. The specimen was excavated in the late 70s and had remained unnoticed and unexamined closely until a few years ago.  If you are interested in fossils, you likely would have heard about this find in the last month or so.  Many news outlets including USA Today, ran stories about this exciting find.

 

Jaw Bones of Ancient Carnivore
Jaw bones discovered in a drawer.

According to the fossil, this animal was clearly a carnivore; carnivores’ teeth are designed for slicing meat rather than the broad, flat teeth of herbivores. Particularly the back teeth are crucial for grabbing onto their prey. Modern-day carnivores, like cats, dogs, and bears, have one pair of back teeth. Simbakubwa has three pairs of these teeth. Furthermore, the teeth were oriented in such a way that they would continue to have a sharp shearing edge throughout their entire lives, and wouldn’t be worn down over time.

This animal would have been huge, as were many animals during its lifetime roughly 23 million years ago. The skull of Simbakubwa is many times larger than that of a modern-day lion (the scientific name means “big African lion”, although they are unrelated), and an adult may have grown to be over 3,000 pounds. The animals they would have preyed on would be large, too, such as the ancestors of elephants and rhinoceroses.

 

Simbakubwa belongs to a group called hypercarnivores. This means that they are at the top of the food chain and exclusively rely on prey for survival. These are some of the animals in the most precarious positions, ecologically speaking. They have the smallest populations in their areas and respond dramatically to any fluctuations in prey populations, which may be affected by climate and other factors. Humans hadn’t evolved at this point yet (primates were only beginning to evolve in Africa), and the end of the Ice Age hadn’t really begun to start, and yet the small changes in the environment in Africa drove them to extinction, because it was changing the populations of animals they ate.

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The time they lived in very interesting for those who want to study human evolution, as our earliest ancestors were starting to evolve. I don’t doubt that in years to come, a lot of research will be done as to how Simbakubwa could have affected our development as a species. Speaking of ancestors, little is still known about the ancestors of Simbakubwa, or what it may be an ancestor of. Normally, I would talk here about who we can see today that evolved from this animal, or what they turned into. So little is known at this point though, and we can only say that Simbakubwa is not the ancestor of any predator in Africa we know of today.

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