One of the world’s oldest land predators had serrated teeth, comparable to a steak knife, according to a new study.

The findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, show how Dimetrodon, a carnivore that walked on land between 298 million and 272 million years ago, had a sophisticated set of teeth that enabled it to eat prey larger than itself. While serrated ziphodont teeth are a common characteristic among carnivorous dinosaurs, the latest find shows that Dimetrodon probably developed them 40 million years earlier than theropod dinosaurs.

"The steak-knife configuration of these teeth and the architecture of the skull suggest Dimetrodon was able to grab and rip and dismember large prey," Robert Reisz, a professor at the University of Toronto Mississauga, said in a statement.

Dimetrodon was a sail-backed carnivorous animal that roamed what is now the Southwestern United States and parts of Europe during the Early Permian Period. From its perch atop of the food chain at the time, the 13-foot-long animal likely was able to prey on large fish, aquatic amphibians and certain land animals, including reptiles, Discovery News reported.

teeth2 Artist impression of a Dimetrodon. Photo: Danielle Dufault

The teeth were examined using a scanning electron microscope (SEM) that revealed the previously unknown patterns. Besides perhaps being one of the earliest animals to have serrated teeth, they were also the first terrestrial vertebrates to have cusps -- teeth with raised points. The study also suggests that the “steak-knife” teeth were a later development in the species, likely due to a change in feeding habits.

"This research is an important step in reconstructing the structure of ancient complex communities," Reisz said. "Teeth tell us a lot more about the ecology of animals than just looking at the skeleton."

Dimetrodon is not a dinosaur. Since it lived approximately 280 million years ago, it roamed Earth long before the dinosaurs evolved. "Teeth fossils have attracted a lot of attention in dinosaurs, but much less is known about the animals that lived during this first chapter in terrestrial evolution," Reisz said.