Taeniodonts are another group of Specworld animals that bear a misleading resemblance to familiar Home-Earth fauna.  A casual observer would probably place the lumbering diga-dumdum as a woodchuck or badger or the smaller scuttlebutt as a mole. However, these heavily-built, deep-faced mammals are only very distantly related to the rest of Eutheria.

    These creatures evolved in North America very early in the Cenozoic.  Paleocene fossils show taeniodonts as the middling-sized, plodding enigmas of RL's own prehistory.  As in our home timeline, it seems the ecological destruction wrought during the transition from Cretaceous to Tertiary opened up a number of niches into which mammals could radiate.  Unlike their counterparts in the familiar history of Home-Earth, however, Spec's taeniodonts failed to go extinct at the end of the Eocene, and continued to thrive through the Cenozoic as an assemblage of borrowers of various sizes.   By the Eocene, taeniodonts were already in Asia and possibly Africa, where they swept aside a number of early rodent-like lineages, only later to be pushed into the background (at least in some niches) by the xenotheridians.  The Great American Interchange of the Miocene brought taeniodonts into contact with the burrowing xenarthrans, but there seems to have been little conflict involved in this particular mix.  Taeniodonts are almost exclusively herbivorous, while the xenarthran bullettes and armadillos are generally insectivorous, so the two clades have managed to coexist peacefully.

    Taeniodonts are separated from all other placental mammals by several distinctive anatomical features, most notable of which are their molar teeth.  These teeth possess very deep roots, and grow constantly throughout the life of the animal, enabling it to tackle a range of abrasive foliage.  Taeniodonts, then, do not nibble or gnaw like xenotheridians, but chew their food rather like Home-Earth pandas, using blunt-clawed fingers to shove food into the mouth.  As mammals go, taeniodonts are not particularly intelligent, but most species are relatively good-natured.

(Text by Daniel Bensen)


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