Giant dogs of the past – Cánidos gigantes del pasado

Hoy en día el lobo es el mayor de los cánidos salvajes. Pero hace unos 8 millones de años existió un cánido que le empequeñecía, y con mucho. Epicyon heydeni tenía el tamaño de un león, y unas mandíbulas armadas de premolares masivos y tan poderosas como las de una hiena, capaces de triturar los huesos de sus presas sin esfuerzo.

Epicyon y canis lupus

Conocer el registro fósil de nuestros grandes carnívoros, “poner cara” a los miembros extintos de esos linajes, nos permite ver a las especies vivientes con otros ojos. El día 28 en mi conferencia en Madrid podremos conocer a algunos de estos magníficos carnívoros del pasado. ¡Os espero!

Today, the wolf is the largest of wild canids. But some 8 million years ago there was a dog species that would have dwarfed any wolf. Epicyon heydeni was as large as a lion, and it sported jaws armed with massive premolar teeth and as powerful as those of a hyena, which could crush the bones of its prey almost effortlessly.
Knowing the fossil record of our large carnivores, and fleshing out the bones of the extinct members of their lineages, allows us to see the living species with new eyes. In my conference in Madrid on the 28th we will get to know some of these magnificent predators from the past.

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Posted on 22/10/2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Wow! From your past work, I’ve known how big Epicyon is. But putting it next to a wolf made it so much more visceral for me. Now i have a better intuitive grasp about the size we’re dealing with. What a fantastic creature

  2. How accurate is it to say it was “the size of a lion” from the data of Munthe (1989) and comparing it with that of Christiansen and Harris (2005), the largest known humerus is only 29cm long, only as long as that of a ~110kg juvenile male tiger but with an articular width only comparable to a ~70kg jaguar.

    • Thanks for your interest! My illustration of wolf and Epicyon compares their linear dimensions, and in that respect Epicyon was clearly as large as a lion, with a shoulder height of over 90 cm. Unfortunately, much of the postcraneal material of Epicyon heydeni is unpublished, but I have measured several humerii larger than the ones studied by the authors you mentioned. At least one humerus from Jack Swayze quarry is over 32 cm long and thus well within the range of modern male lions. But of course the articular widths are smaller (relative to absolute lenght) than in lions, and their body mass would be correspondingly smaller.

      • Thanks a lot for your reply! I see, what do you think could be a decent guess at the mass of an individual like that? I’ve been under the impression that carnivorans with similar body plans (hyenas for example) also don’t seem to get much over 100kg (Palmqvist et al, 2011 estimates for Pachycrocuta), I wonder if it’s something inherent of their more cursorial limbs compared to cats that restrict their body size.

  3. That’s fascinating! I’d heard of giant wombats and koalas here in Australia, colossal game in North America and the Arctic Circle – and of course everyone’s familiar with the gargantuan creatures in Africa. But I’d never considered…it seems almost all our fauna was brobdingnagian in the past. Which raises two questions; why would they have been then, and why aren’t they now? Hmmm…

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