'Scarface': Dachshund-Sized 'Pre-Mammal' Roamed Earth 255 Million Years Ago

Image: Photograph and line drawing of skull of Ichibengops munyamadziensis.
Photograph and line drawing of the skull of Ichibengops munyamadziensis, a "pre-mammal" creature.Adam Huttenlocker

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
By James Eng

Move over, Al Pacino, there’s another “Scarface” in town, and it's got a mean bite.

Scientists unearthed ancient fossils in Zambia of a new species of “pre-mammal” that lived around 255 million years ago. They dubbed the creature “Scarface.” An analysis of two partial skulls discovered in Zambia’s Luangwa Basin in 2009 suggests the creature was about the size of a dachshund. It belonged to Therocephalia, a group of mammal-like — and probably carnivorous — reptiles known for their large heads and long teeth.

The scientists who made the discovery have named the creature Ichibengops munyamadziensis — roughly translated as “Scarface of the Munyamadzi River.” The findings were detailed recently in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Photograph and line drawing of the skull of Ichibengops munyamadziensis, a "pre-mammal" creature.Adam Huttenlocker

“Discoveries of new species of animals like Ichibengops are particularly exciting because they help us to better understand the group of animals that gave rise to mammals,” senior author Kenneth Angielczyk, of Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, said in a statement on Thursday.

Other researchers hailed from the University of Utah, the University of Washington and the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture.

Related: Deadliest Predator: Humans Wiped Out Ancient Mammals, Study Finds

Angielczyk said the animal had grooves above its teeth, which may have been used to transmit venom. That would be rare among therocephalians, and even among today’s mammals.

Related: Oldest Animal Sperm Lasts 50 Million Years in Antarctica

Christian Sidor, professor of biology at the University of Washington and curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Burke Museum, said only one other therocephalian was believed to have been capable of injecting venom — the extinct therocephalian Euchambersia. “However, it’s very difficult to assess function in fossils, so we can never be 100 percent certain,” he said.