‘Hippo’ named for Mick Jagger had quite the muzzle

Scientists have named an extinct swamp-dweller from 19 million years ago after Mick Jagger because the two share one trait: super-sized lips.

“We gave it the scientific name Jaggermeryx naida, which translates to ‘Jagger’s water nymph,'” says study coauthor Ellen Miller of Wake Forest University.

Jaggermeryx naida jawbone
Top and side views of a fossilized jaw bone of Jaggermeryx naida. (Credit: Gregg Gunnell/Duke Lemur Center)

The animal’s fossilized jaw bones suggest it was roughly the size of a small deer and akin to a cross between a slender hippo and a long-legged pig.

Researchers uncovered the fossils—consisting of multiple jawbone fragments—amid the sand dunes and eroded rock of a remote site in the Egyptian desert.

The creature belonged to a family of extinct hoofed animals called anthracotheres. Jaggermeryx is one of six species of anthracotheres found at the site.

What distinguished it from other members of this family was a series of tiny holes on either side of its jaw that held the nerves providing sensation to the chin and lower lip.

“The animal probably had a highly innervated muzzle with mobile and tactile lips, thus the Jagger reference,” says Duke University paleontologist and study coauthor Gregg Gunnell.

The Egyptian site where the fossils were found is mostly desert today, but geological data suggest that millions of years ago it was a lush tropical delta crisscrossed by rivers and swampland.

Preliminary measurements of the relative amounts of different isotopes in the animal’s bones suggest that it probably ate plants.

“It may have used its sensitive snout to forage along river banks, scooping up plants with its lower teeth and large lips,” Miller says.

The Jaggermeryx fossils, which now reside in collections at Duke, the Cairo Geological Museum, and Cairo University, were found alongside fossilized catfish, turtles, waterbirds, and crocodile poop.

“Some of my colleagues suggested naming the new species after Hollywood star Angelina Jolie, because she also has famous lips. But for me it had to be Mick,” says Miller.

Supported by the National Science Foundation, the work will appear in the Journal of Paleontology. Additional coauthors contributed from Cairo University and University of Wyoming.

Source: Duke University (Originally published September 10, 2014)