Temporal range: Middle Pliocene to Middle Pleistocene
|Pachycrocuta brevirostris reconstruction|
Pachycrocuta was a genus of prehistoric hyenas. The largest and most well-researched species was the giant hyena Pachycrocuta brevirostris, which may have weighed up to 190 kg (420 lb), this would make it the largest hyena to have ever lived. They were around the size of a modern day lioness. It lived between the Middle Pliocene and the Middle Pleistocene, about 3 million to 500,000 years ago.
Fossil remains have been found in many localities of Eurasia and southern and eastern Africa. Most material consists of fragmented remains, usually of the skull, but there has been a cache of very comprehensive bone material unearthed at the famous Zhoukoudian locality which probably represents the remains of animals which used these caves as lairs for many millennia, while at the western end of their former range, a huge assemblage of Pleistocene fossils at Venta Micena in southeastern Spain also represents a den.
Other proposed species, P. robusta and P. pyrenaica, are less well researched; the former may simply be an exceptionally large European paleosubspecies of the brown hyena, Hyaena brunnea. Sometimes included in this genus (as Pachycrocuta bellax) is the extinct giant striped hyaena, Hyaena bellax.
It probably was a small-pack hunter of large animals (up to deer size and occasionally larger). Research by anthropologists Noel Boaz and Russell Ciochon on remains of Homo erectus unearthed alongside Pachycrocuta at the Zhoukoudian site attributed scoring and puncture patterns observed on hominid long bones and skulls, originally thought to be signs of cannibalism, to predation by Pachycrocuta. Pachycrocuta may have also scavenged for food. Possibly it preferentially did the latter because it was a very heavyset animal not built for chasing prey over long distances. In this aspect it would have differed from the spotted hyena of today, which is a more nimble animal that, contrary to its image as a scavenger, usually kills its own food but often gets displaced by lions. Apparently it was ecologically close enough to the smaller (but still large) relative Pliocrocuta perrieri that they are never found as contemporary fossils in the same region.
- Sorkin, B. (2008-04-10). "A biomechanical constraint on body mass in terrestrial mammalian predators". Lethaia 41 (4): 333–347. doi:10.1111/j.1502-3931.2007.00091.x. Retrieved 2011-08-02.
- Turner, Alan; Antón, Mauricio (1996). "The giant hyaena Pachycrocuta brevirostris (Mammalia, Carnivora, Hyaenidae)". Geobios 29 (4): 455–468. doi:10.1016/S0016-6995(96)80005-2.
- (BBC Earth News) Matt Walker, "Prehistoric giant hyena's bone-cracking habit", 4 March 2011: accessed 4 March 2011.
- Boaz et al., Noel T. (2001). "The Scavenging of 'Peking Man'". Natural History (110): 46–52.
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