Denizens of Madrid’s Miocene woods: “sabre-toothed” ruminants
Continuing with our imaginary stroll through the sheltered valleys of Madrid’s Aragonian (between 15 and 11 million years ago) we might find among the vegetation some of the ruminants which could have served as prey to such early cats as Styriofelis.
Most of these ruminants would have been smallish animals, rather unimpressive at first sight, but several of them had in common a more sinister trait, not evident perhaps during our first glimpse: they had vicious, saber-like canines that protruded beyond their upper lips even with closed mouths. The impressive antlers and horns of many modern ruminants were still millions of years in the future, and these early, modest-sized relatives used their canine teeth for display against rival cospecifics, and even to inflict nasty wounds. Even today there are living ruminants like the mouse-deer and the musk deer, which still have fearsome tusks and put them to good use.
One of the smallest ruminants of Madrid’s Miocene woods was Dorcatherium, a tragulid and thus a close relative of today’s mouse deer that stood only some 25 cm tall at the shoulder. It would normally be found close to water, and in fact its modern relatives are known to actually dive for safety!.
With the approximate size of a roe deer or a fallow deer, the early cervid Heteroprox was still within the size range of potential prey for Styriofelis. Like Dorcatherium, it also had protruding canine teeth, but it also had small and relatively simple antlers wich allowed different fighting styles when rival males confronted.
These are just a couple among the myriad species that inhabited the woods and praires of Miocene Madrid. We will be seeing more of them in coming posts!