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Hypercarnivorous teeth and healed injuries to Canis chihliensis from Early Pleistocene Nihewan beds, China, support social hunting for ancestral wolves


Collaborative hunting by complex social groups is a hallmark of large dogs (Mammalia: Carnivora: Canidae), whose teeth also tend to be hypercarnivorous, specialized toward increased cutting edges for meat consumption and robust p4-m1 complex for cracking bone. The deep history of canid pack hunting is, however, obscure because behavioral evidence is rarely preserved in fossils. Dated to the Early Pleistocene (>1.2 Ma), Canis chihliensis from the Nihewan Basin of northern China is one of the earliest canines to feature a large body size and hypercarnivorous dentition. We present the first known record of dental infection in C. chihliensis, likely inflicted by processing hard food, such as bone. Another individual also suffered a displaced fracture of its tibia and, despite such an incapacitating injury, survived the trauma to heal. The long period required for healing the compound fracture is consistent with social hunting and family care (food-sharing) although alternative explanations exist. Comparison with abundant paleopathological records of the putatively pack-hunting Late Pleistocene dire wolf, Canis dirus, at the Rancho La Brea asphalt seeps in southern California, U.S.A., suggests similarity in feeding behavior and sociality between Chinese and American Canis across space and time. Pack hunting in Canis may be traced back to the Early Pleistocene, well before the appearance of modern wolves, but additional evidence is needed for confirmation.

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