The fossil of an extinct marsupial was recovered from New Riversleigh fossil site in Queensland.
Australia’s Riversleigh fossil site is known for yielding some of the weirdest animal fossils ever seen on Earth such as Balbaroo fangaroo, an extinct species of kangaroo, wakaleo, a dog-sized animal and snail-eating marsupial.
Recently, researchers have unearthed the fossil of a previously unknown ‘hypercornivore’ marsupial that roamed Earth around 12 to 5 million years ago. It was the period of time during which Australia began to dry out and magafuana started to evolve.
Though this site is now a hot bed of fossil discoveries, most of those animals were water dwellers. Only few land animals from late Miocene period have been discovered so far.
The newfound flesh-eating animal, named Whollydooleya tomnpatrichorum, weighted about 20 to 25 kilograms, making it much bigger than the largest marsupial existing today, which can weigh no more than 10 kilograms.
“This was an animal which was very considerably bigger than the largest we’ve got today, the Tasmanian devil, probably two to three times.” Lead author Mike Archer from University of New South Wales told ABC.
The fossil consists of just a molar tooth which has enabled researchers to sketch the general features and traits of new marsupial. They believe the teeth of the animal were strong enough to kill and slice up even the largest animal of that time.
The fossil was in the midst of many other strange animals that have been recently discovered in remote northwestern Queensland inside the archeologically rich area of Riversleigh.
“New Riversleigh is producing the remains of a bevy of strange new small to medium-sized creatures, with Whollydooleya tomnpatrichorum, the first one to be described,” said Archer.
“These new discoveries are starting to fill in a large hole in our understanding about how Australia's land animals transformed from being small denizens of its ancient wet forests to huge survivors on the second most arid continent on Earth.”
The fossil remains have been located using sensing technology via satellite data and they can reveal more about small to medium sized animals that have been rarely uncovered in the region before. These fossils can help understand the evolution of modern-day animals as well as the changes in environment in Australia over the centuries.
Co-researcher Dr Karen Black says. “The small to medium-size animals from the New Riversleigh deposits will reveal a great deal about how Australia’s inland environments and animals changed between 12 to 5 million years ago – a critical time when increasing dryness ultimately led to the Ice Ages of the Pleistocene.”
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