|Fossil skull of Cynognathus crateronotus|
Cynognathus is an extinct genus of large-bodied cynodontian therapsids that lived in the Middle Triassic. It is known from a single species, Cynognathus crateronotus. Cynognathus was a 1.2-metre (3 ft 11 in) long predator closely related to mammals and had a southern hemispheric distribution. Fossils have so far been recovered from South Africa, Argentina, Antarctica, and Namibia.
Discovery and naming
During 1888 and 1889, the British paleontologist Harry Govier Seeley visited southern Africa. In 1889, near Lady Frere, at a location where earlier Alfred Brown had discovered a tooth, Seeley excavated a skull and partial postcranial skeleton of a cynodontian. In 1894, Seeley named the genus Cynognathus with as type species Cynognathus crateronotus. Simultaneously, he named three other species in the genus: Cynognathus Berryi, honouring James Berry who had assisted in the excavations, Cynognathus platyceps, the "flat jaw", and Cynognathus leptorhinus, the "slender nose". The generic name Cynognathus is derived from Greek kyon and gnathos, meaning "dog jaw". In 1895, Seeley published a more comprehensive description of these finds.
Fossil material probably belonging to the genus has been given several different names over the years. Generic synonyms include Cistecynodon, Cynidiognathus, Cynogomphius, Karoomys, Lycaenognathus, Lycochampsa and Lycognathus. Opinions vary as to whether all remains belong to the same species. The genera Karoomys and Cistecynodon are known only from tiny juveniles. Species-level synonyms of Cynognathus crateronotus include Cistecynodon parvus, Cynidiognathus broomi, Cynidiognathus longiceps, Cynidiognathus merenskyi, Cynognathus berryi, Cynognathus minor, Cynognathus platyceps, Cynogomphius berryi, Karoomys browni, Lycaenognathus platyceps, Lycochampsa ferox, Lycognathus ferox, and Nythosaurus browni.
Cynognathus was a heavily built animal, and measured around 1.2 metres (3 ft 11 in) in snout-to-vent body length. It had a particularly large head, up to 40 centimetres (1 ft) in length, with wide jaws and sharp teeth. Its hindlimbs were placed directly beneath the body, but the forelimbs sprawled outwards in a more reptilian fashion. This form of double (erect/sprawling) gait is also found in some primitive mammals alive today.
The dentary was equipped with differentiated teeth that show this animal could effectively process its food before swallowing. The presence of a secondary palate in the mouth indicates that Cynognathus would have been able to breathe and swallow simultaneously.
The possible lack of belly ribs, in the stomach region, suggests the presence of an efficient diaphragm: an important muscle for mammalian breathing. Pits and canals on the bone of the snout indicate concentrations of nerves and blood vessels. In mammals, such structures allow hairs (whiskers) to be used as sensory organs.
Seeley in 1894/1895 placed Cynognathus in a separate family Cynognathidae, within the Cynodontia. Cynognathus is presently the only recognized member of the family Cynognathidae. Later a clade Cynognathia was named after the genus, within the Eucynodontia.
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- H.G. Seeley. 1894. "Researches on the Structure, Organization, and Classification of the Fossil Reptilia. Part IX, Section 5. Abstract. On New Cynodontia". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B 56: 291-294
- H.G. Seeley. 1895. "Researches on the Structure, Organization, and Classification of the Fossil Reptilia. Part IX, Section 5. On the Skeleton in New Cynodontia from the Karroo Rocks". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B 186: 59-148
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- Seeley (1895), "Researches on the structure, organization, and classification of the fossil Reptilia. Part IX., Section 5. On the skeleton in new Cynodontia from the Karroo rocks". Phil. Transactions of the Roy. Soc. of London, series B 186, p. 59–148.
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