Almost 30 million years ago, a creature waded through African swamps looking like a cross between a hippopotamus and a pig, a plant-eating mammal that shoveled plants out of tropical muck.
But when a team of scientists unearthed its fragments from an Egyptian desert, they named the beast in honor of its plump and protruding lips – a prehistoric Mick Jagger pout.
Details on the jaggermeryx naida appear in this week’s issue of the Journal of Paleontology, in a study co-authored by researchers from Duke and Wake Forest universities.
Their work introduces the world to a new genus and species, and it draws readers to Egypt in its far-distant past as a lush and sultry bog. But in a scientific nod to pop culture , it makes a connection between an extinct ungulate and the Rolling Stones’ prancing frontman.
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“My colleague mentioned Angelina Jolie,” said Gregg Gunnell, Duke paleontologist. “We thought maybe Mick would be less sensitive.”
Researchers recovered only a set of jawbone fragments, now housed at Duke and in Cairo, and deduced its rough size and shape. Unlike its ancient cousins, jaggermeryx has eight holes spaced along each side of its lower jaw, allowing an unusual amount of space for nerves.
With all those nerves, jaggermeryx must have possessed a hypersensitive muzzle, likely oversized, serving as a giant ice cream scoop.
“We imagine it looked like a moose,” said Ellen Miller, a physical anthropologist at Wake Forest. “The thing must have been standing in the water and foraging.”
Jaggermeryx naida, which translates to “Jagger’s water nymph,” hails from a family of extinct hoofed beasts called anthracotheres. The remote desert site predates the Nile, making it hard to imagine a forager with a flexible shovel for a mouth. But near its fossils, the researchers found the remains of catfish, turtles and crocodile dung.
They might have chosen Steven Tyler of Aerosmith fame, or even Elvis Presley with his curled sneer. But nothing grabs attention like Jagger lips, suitable for a logo.
“We were of that generation,” Gunnell said. “You were either a Beatles fan or a Stones fan in those days. I’m still in the Stones camp.”
He knows Jaggermeryx is no wild horse, no beast of burden. And after 29 million years, it will not fade away.