Pig Profile: Entelodonts

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    The above picture is that of a warthog, considered one of the fiercest pigs on the planet, but the entelodont was THE fiercest pig within the animal kingdom.

    We normally think of pigs has docile creatures to be consumed on a commercial basis, but it was a much different story millions of years ago.

    Check out a photo of the entelodont here.

    Entelodonts lived roughly 18 million years ago from the middle of the Eocene to the early Miocene epochs. They lived for 21 million years throughout Europe, Asia and North America. They have since been called "Terrible Pig" or the "Devil Pig," and entelodont means "Perfect Toothed." To give you an idea of how big these pigs were, they stood six feet at the shoulder and grew 10 feet in length. They were not the soft and fat pig we see today. These were rough pigs that had a slender, muscular build suited for survival. These hardened pigs had bony face plates like the modern warthog, which was used to fend off predators, and to compete for mates. The plates were also used for protecting more sensitive parts of the face like the nose or eyes.

    Their skulls were four feet long and three feet in width. Entelodonts had long, slender legs, suggesting it was a fast runner. Like the modern pig, they are omnivores, but they also scavenged carcasses.

    Get a view of them in action:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_mFXLZW5P0
    They often traveled in groups, and fended off the Hyaenodon and the Smilodon. Because of their intimidating stature, however, taking down an entelodont was only possible if it was traveling alone, or if other predators attacked in packs. And there is debate over whether or not these pigs were indeed predators themselves. There is a general consensus that they were primarily omnivores and scavengers, but they may have engaged in some predatory activity. They could have eaten small, living animals, and they could have finished off wounded animals for food.

    The forward direction of their eye sockets also gave them far-reaching visual range, making them well suited to hunt other animals, although some herbivores species exhibit the same eye physiology. They could also pick up scents in the air, and they are believed to have a superior sense of smell compared to other herbivores. Even though they had superior traits on par with other predators, they would eventually fail to adapt over time, which ultimately may have led to their extinction.

    Extinction Theories

    There are wide-ranging theories regarding the entelodont's ultimate demise. By the early Miocene, these killer pigs found themselves in a much different climate. By that time, the vegetation had significantly shifted from lush vegetation and tropical climate to open fields and dry plains. Global cooling at the time reduced much of the prime vegetation that the entelodont may have needed to survive, resulting in declining numbers and eventual extinction.

    Horses were able to survive by developing a mature set of teeth for grazing, but judging from the skeletons, entelodonts did not go through the same evolution. They may have also failed to adapt to the new ecosystem and the food offered during the new epoch.

    However, this theory is predicated on the notion that they were primarily plant eaters. They could have been driven to hunt as their plant-based food diminished. During their prime, entelodonts would follow predators around, wait for them to make the kill, and drive them away to steal the carcass. During the Miocene, however, entelodonts came across more advanced predators like saber-toothed cats and bear dogs. Entelodonts found themselves caught between herbivore and carnivore, finding themselves ill-equipped in the new world. They were relics of a bygone era, and it could be a very well be a combination of the aforementioned theories that resulted in their downfall.

    Regardless of how they came to be extinct, they are fascinating animals to study, along with other animals of the prehistoric period.

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