Two ancient creatures who lived millions of years apart both happened to develop one weird facial feature: a trumpet-like nose.
The two creatures are an ancient wildebeest with the impossible-to-pronounce name Rusingoryx atopocranion and a duck-billed dinosaur called a hadrosaur, a feature both creatures may have used to talk to their friends while grazing for food, without other creatures hearing their conversation.
“The (nose) is a completely new structure for mammals—it doesn’t look like anything you could see in an animal that’s alive today,” said paleophysiologist Haley O’Brien. “The closest example would be [duck-billed] hadrosaur dinosaurs.”
Both the ancient mammal and dinosaur developed their unusual noses separately, because in both of their times and places, the feature proved helpful to their evolution. It’s “spectacular example” of a phenomena called convergent evolution, in which totally unrelated animals develop the same features because they have an advantage for the animal, Scientific American reported.
Rusingoryx atopocranion was only identified as a new species in 1983 after being found at the Bovid Hill fossil site near Lake Victoria in Kenya. This spot has tons of bovid fossils; a bovid is a cloven-hoofed animal with more than one stomach that enjoys chewing their cud, like cows. Over several years, researchers discovered a distinct type of bovid at this site, and gradually realized they’d uncovered a slaughter.
“(We were) dealing with an entire herd that was somehow wiped out and buried at the site,” said archaeologist J. Tyler Faith.
The scattered remains of the ancient wildebeest were peppered with clues that suggested what happened to them: stone tools and butchered bones hinted at hungry early modern humans. They dated the new species at Lake Pleistocene from about 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago. These creatures were approximately 75,000-years-old.
Among the remains were a few intact skulls, which gave researchers a bit of a shock when they looked closer, Faith explained.
“I was astonished to see that [the skulls] looked unlike any antelope that I had ever seen—the only thing more surprising would have been fossil zebras with horns growing from their heads. The anatomy was clearly remarkable.”
“We were expecting the inside of the dome to have something closer to normal mammalian anatomy, but once we took a look at the CT scans, we were pretty shocked,” added O’Brien.
The anatomy indicated something strange about its nose, The Washington Post explained: both ancient wildebeest and hadrosaur had “crescent-shaped protrusions” and a hollow internal bone structure. CT scans revealed that the ancient wildebeest’s inner nasal crests (protrusions) were very comparable to the long crests of the dinosaur.
The hadrosaur is often called the “cow of the Cretaceous” because of its 1,400 horse-like teeth and love of grazing. The ancient wildebeest was also a grazing herbivore, a similarity between the species that led both of them to develop their weird noses.
Grazing, social herbivores often spread out from their fellow herd members to eat, making them vulnerable to predators. Researchers believe that both animals’ trumpet-like nasal passages were actually resonance chambers that deepened their calls to such a low frequency that they could talk without other species hearing.
Thanks to their noses, chatting was safe even when they were apart.
Scientists believe that one ancient hadrosaur, named Parasaurolophus — whose nasal crest was seven feet long — had a secret sound similar to a trombone.
Since the ancient wildebeest and the dinosaur were plant-eaters and therefore had very special teeth, researchers believe that these teeth changed their lower jaws and cheekbones as well. Scientists will now take a closer look at how the R. atopocranion developed as it grew into adulthood, and figure out why they went extinct.
[Photo by AndreAnita/Shutterstock]