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SYFY WIRE Paleontology

Hide your nuts! This saber-toothed Triassic squirrel seeks your snacks

By Jeff Spry
Saber Squirrel

It seems like prehistoric times were pretty petrifying, especially when you consider creatures like apex predators, badass bugs, sharp-toothed marine animals, monster penguins, and even humongous parrots. But new evidence of a wicked giant squirrel that once scampered about during the Triassic Period foraging for primeval grub has us running for the hills!

Paleontologists in Argentina have discovered a 231-million-year-old saber-toothed squirrel that bears an uncanny resemblance to the toothy Scrat character in the Ice Age movies. Officially named Pseudotherium argentinus, meaning false Theria from Argentina, the animal's fossillized remains were unearthed in Ischigualasto alongside two of the oldest dinosaurs known to date.

Saber Squirrel 1

However, unlike Scrat's chilly climes, this mammaliamorph existed in an environment much warmer than today, with lush flora made up primarily of ferns and conifers. The skull measures less than 6 centimeters in length and was amazingly well preserved when uncovered.

“The new species has a very long, flat, and shallow snout, and its very long fangs located almost at the tip of the snout, so the resemblance [to Scrat] is tremendous,” Dr. Ricardo Martínez of the Institute and Museum of Natural Sciences of the University of San Juan told the Agency CTyS-UNLaM.  

The fascinating study was recently published in the online scientific journal PLOS One and also included the research of Rachel Wallace and Timothy Rowe, both at the Jackson School of Geosciences, University of Texas at Austin.

Martinez discovered the creature in the multi-hued rocks of the famous Ischigualasto dig site in the San Juan province of northwestern Argentina, which is also called Moon Valley.  The terrifying Triassic ‘Scrat’ was found near Panphagia protos, one of the oldest known sauropodomorphs known today, and beside the femur of the only lagerpetid dinosaur relative ever revealed in this fertile deposit.

Triassic Squirrel 3

This aggressive-looking animal would have measured about 10 inches (25 centimeters) in length from nose to tail, but had a very different food selection than Blue Sky Studios' Scrat, and didn't covet acorns but ate insects or smaller animals instead.  But we'd still hide the nuts!