|creodont (krē'ə-dŏnt') Pronunciation Key
Any of various extinct carnivorous mammals of the order Creodonta of the Paleocene to the Pliocene Epochs. Creodonts had long, low skulls with crests to which chewing muscles were attached. They were the dominant carnivorous mammals for millions of years, and were once believed to be ancestral to modern carnivores.
order of extinct, primitive carnivores first found as fossils in early Tertiary deposits of Mongolia (the Tertiary Period lasted from 66.4 to 1.6 million years ago). The creodonts evolved from Late Cretaceous mammals (the Deltatheridia), became the early dominant carnivores, and reached the peak of their number and diversity during the Eocene Epoch (between 57.8 and 36.6 million years ago). The creodonts retained numerous archaic traits. The brain was small and primitive, and the skull was relatively long and low. Prominent crests present on the skull served for the attachment of well-developed chewing muscles. Two main families are distinguished: the Oxyaenidae and the Hyaenodontidae. The oxyaenids, long-bodied, weasel-like animals with short legs, first appeared during the late Paleocene Epoch (more than 57.8 million years ago) and were extinct by the end of the Eocene Epoch. The hyaenodonts were more diverse and abundant than the oxyaenids and had proportionately longer limbs. Some forms grew to large size and paralleled the evolution of later, more advanced carnivores, including the sabre-toothed cats. The hyaenodonts were active predators and persisted much later than the oxyaenids. Some were able to compete with the true carnivores and survived into the late Tertiary. Well-known genera of hyaenodonts include Sinopa and Hyaenodon.
Learn more about creodont with a free trial on Britannica.com.