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First Canadian Dimetrodon: Fossil Teeth Reveal True Identity Of Misidentified Dinosaur

Nov 24, 2015 06:59 PM EST
Dimetrodon borealis
A recent analysis of eight fossilized teeth revealed the true identity of a dinosaur species incorrectly classified years ago.
(Photo : Illustration by Danielle Dufault)

A dinosaur species characterized by steak knife-like teeth was recently renamed Dimetrodon borealis after researchers from the University of Toronto realized the fossil specimens were misinterpreted by a paleontologist in 1845. This specimen now represents the first Canadian Dimetrodon.

The fossils, originally known as Bathygnathus borealis, were collected from Prince Edward Island in 1845 when a farmer was digging out a well on his property near the French River. Since there was no natural history museum in Canada at the time, the specimens were sold to the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, where paleontologist Joseph Leidy was put in charge of identifying them, according to a news release.

However, Leidy believed Dimetrodon's jaw represented that of a dinosaur's and subsequently named the species Bathygnathus (meaning deep jaw) borealis (from the north). At the time this made sense because other similar, large, bipedal species were being unearthed in parts of Europe.

Not all paleontologists were convinced though, so many continued to study the Bathygnathus specimen in an attempt to correctly identify the species. Nowvresearchers believe they have finally accomplished the feat with their recent examination of eight fossilized teeth.

"It's really exciting to discover that the detailed anatomy of the teeth has finally allowed us to identify precisely this important Canadian fossil," Kirstin Brink, lead author of the study who did the research while at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM), said in the release. "Dimetrodon is actually more closely related to mammals than it is to dinosaurs."

Their analysis not only revealed Dimetrodon went extinct some 40 million years before the dinosaurs, but that it was the first terrestrial animal to have "ziphodont" teeth.

"These are blade-like teeth with tiny serrations along the front and back of the teeth, similar to a steak knife," Professor Robert Reisz, senior author of the study, explained. "The roots of these teeth are very long, around double the length of the crowns. This type of tooth is very effective for biting and ripping flesh from prey."

Their study was recently published in the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences.

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