Paleontologists unearthed the oldest known ancestor of land-dwelling herbivores with the discovery of a 300-million-year-old skeleton, shedding light onto plant eaters´ emergence on land, a study said Wednesday.
A partial fossil of the animal, called Eocasea martini, is “the first link between carnivores and herbivores, the transition,” Robert Reisz, the article´s principal author and professor at Canada´s University of Toronto Mississauga, said.
Eocasea was a carnivore, but had certain skeletal features that indicate it was a close relative of herbivores, Reisz said.
Only part of the skull, most of the vertebral column, the pelvis and a hind limb of the eight-inch (20-centimeter) animal were discovered when it was unearthed in the US state of Kansas, according to the study published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.
Eocasea, which lived 80 million years before the dinosaur age, was part of a group of animals called synapsids, which included the first terrestrial herbivores and large top predators. The group eventually evolved into modern mammals.