Fossil teeth show packs of hyenas roamed the ancient Arctic

This ice age fossil tooth — tucked away for years in the collections of the Canadian Museum of Nature — belonged to the

Fossil teeth reveal ancient hyenas in the Arctic

But where and how did these animals get to North America?

Paleontologists have found two fossilized teeth of extinct cursorial hyenas (genus Chasmaporthetes) in the remote Old Crow River region in northern Yukon Territory, Canada.

The fossil teeth had been tucked away in the collections of the Canadian Museum of Nature and are among 50,000 fossils recovered from the area over the last century.

Tseng visited the museum in Ottawa earlier this year to take a closer look and, as an expert in hyenas, he immediately identified them as belonging to the the Chasmaporthetes genus.

The two teeth fill a gaping hole in the fossil record. More information on ice age fossils from Yukon Territory is available on the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre's website. That proves to be crucial as this genus of hyenas would have been a hunter, besides rummaging for food. But out of more than 50,000 specimen composed, simplest two that also can belong to a hyena had been stumbled on.

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Tseng learned about the teeth only through word of mouth.

Dr Tseng added: 'Our previous understanding of where these far-ranging hyenas lived was based on fossil records in southern North America on one hand, and Asia, Europe and Africa on the other.

A 50-year-old mystery surrounding a pair of fossilised teeth has been put to rest by new research that suggests hyenas once roamed Canada's Arctic.

"It has always been hypothesized that hyenas crossed the Beringian land bridge to enter North America, but evidence was lacking", Schubert told Live Science in an email.

However, their ancient cousins lived all over the world, in Asia, North America and Europe. But the first hyenas crossed into North America long before that, as the earliest known hyena fossils on the continent date back about 5 million years, Tseng says.

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The researchers concluded that hyenas successfully lived in the long, dark and cold Arctic winters, as they had been effective predators.

"We're so used to thinking of Hyenas living in places like Africa, where they're running around the savannah", Zazula commented. Scientists previously tracked hyena fossils in northern America, although the fossils were mostly discovered in what is now the southern United States.

Although the reasons for this extinction between one million and 500,000 years ago remain unclear, it is possible that the animals' bone-crushing, scavenging niche was replaced by the impressive short-faced bear Arctodus simus.

As a final note, Gizmodo asked Tseng about the stunning rendering of the ancient Arctic hyenas (shown above in its uncropped form). He said his team was "very fortunate" to collaborate with Canadian artist Julius Csotonyi on this fantastic artwork. This tooth, found in 1977, and one other are the first known hyena fossils found in the Arctic. "The baby mammoth represented some of the most common herbivores that may have fallen prey to the hyenas". The fossilized teeth highlight the migration of the cat genus that traveled through the grass-abundant tundra on its way to the U.S. during the first years of the latest ice age.

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