Didelphondon vorax is one of the earliest relatives of the present day marsupial and lived in the last few million years of the Mesozoic or the dinosaur era. However don’t be fooled by this diminutive creature because it can bite with a force which is many times more, pound for pound for any marsupial. In fact, it can use its bone-crunching canine teeth to take down small dinosaurs.
These latest findings can turn over an old theory which suggests that marsupials originated in South America. The anatomical features of the ancient marsupial could have originated in North America some 10 to 20 million years earlier than commonly believed. In the later years, these marsupials dispersed and diversified in South Africa.
Lead researcher Gregory Wilson, who serves as the adjunct curator of vertebrate palaeontology attached with Burke Museum in Seattle said that D. vorax crushes the traditional concept of Mesozoic mammals. Wilson who also serves as an associate professor of biology at the University of Washington added that these creatures were not the meek and timid marsupials but were fearsome predators that roamed the Late Cretaceous landscape and terrorised even some dinosaurs.
The researchers unearthed four fossil specimens in a rock which were dated about 69 million to 66 million years ago whereas it is assumed that metatherians or marsupials and their closest relatives were present in the Cretaceous period i.e. some 45.5 million to 65.5 million years ago in North America. However, most of the fossils were limited to fragments of jawbones or teeth and it did not provide much information about them.
The latest findings included the complete skull, a partial snout and upper jawbone. It hints that D.vorax lived during the Cretaceous period probably weighed 5.3 pounds to 11.5 pounds. By using computer aided tomography or CAT scan of the fossils and ascertaining the force of the muscles attached to the skull revealed that the creature had the most powerful bite for any mammal, alive or extinct. The canine teeth of the animal were much akin to present day felines and hyenas, and its habits and hunting methods much similar to carnivores.