Hyaenodon, one of the best-known creodonts, on display at the Royal Ontario Museum.
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Photo by Brian Switek.
Hyaenodon, one of the best-known creodonts, on display at the Royal Ontario Museum.

The Jaws That Bite, the Claws That Catch

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my. These are some of the most imposing predators to stalk the land, not to mention the dark corners of our imagination. But these beasts didn’t always rule. They’re part of a relatively recent reign – that of the Carnivora – that out-competed other mammalian lines that had been chasing down prey for tens of millions of years. Among these now-lost predators were long-faced mammals with self-sharpening teeth – the creodonts.

After the non-avian dinosaurs kicked it about 66 million years ago, mammals flourished. The creodonts were among the first to take up a predatory lifestyle. The earliest are known from the Paleocene – the first epoch in the Age of Mammals – and the last died out around 11 million years ago. That’s quite a run, and during that time they evolved into a range of forms that included arboreal hunters to some of the largest land-dwelling flesh rippers the world has ever seen. In this interview, shot at the last Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting, Stony Brook University paleontologist and Past Time host Matt Borths will introduce you to the  carnivorous creodonts: