Reconstruction of Wakaleo schouteni challenging the thylacinid Nimbacinus dicksoni on a kangaroo carcass in the late Oligocene forest in Riversleigh (illustration by Peter Schouten in Journal of Systematic Palaeontology).
It’s been 30,000 years since the last of the marsupial lions prowled for prey in Australia, but scientists continue to discover new species of the largest flesh-eating mammals that ever lived on the continent.
The newest member of the family is Wakaleo schouteni, of which the fossils — including a well-preserved skull, jaws, and the upper arm bones were found in the Riversleigh World Heritage Area in northwest Queensland.
The dreaded predator weighed about 50 kilograms and was about the size of a Collie dog, according to Anna Gillespie of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, one of Australia’s leading research and teaching universities.
DUCK-DINOSAUR HYBRID BAFFLES SCIENTISTS WITH MIXED-UP BODY
Gillespie, a technical researcher for the team of scientists who found the new species, wrote about their discovery in The Conversation, an academic and research news journal.
“‘Marsupial lions’, also known as thylacoleonids, are an extinct family of marsupials that were present in Australia from about 24 million years ago until the end of the Pleistocene era, approximately 30,000 years ago,” Gillespie wrote.
“Their distinguishing feature is the presence of extended premolar teeth that form a pair of secateur-like blades. This function can be massively developed in the most recent member of the family, Thylacoleo carnifex , led to them being referred to as a ‘marsupial lion’ of the 19th century palaeontologist Sir Richard Owen.
OLD HELMET TO WEAR VERMIFORM CREATURE WAS COVERED IN ‘COCKTAIL STICKS’
“At this time, the thylacoleonid family contains nine species, five of which belong to the genus Wakaleo.”
In addition to their powerful jaws and front legs, the Marsupial lions had retractable claws, a unique feature of the marsupials that enabled them to secure their prey and to climb trees.
In contrast to most of today’s marsupials, including kangaroos and koalas, marsupial lions had large upper and lower incisors, similar to the pointy fangs of dogs and cats. They also had an exceptionally large jaws, making them the most powerful bite, adjusted for size, of all animals that ever lived on earth — as powerful as lions twice their size.
110 GIANT STEPS: A LONG NECK AND A DINOSAUR BREAKS THE RECORD FOR THE LONGEST TRACKWAY
Gillespie and colleagues Michael Archer and Suzanne J. Hand have written a detailed study of their discovery in the Journal of Systematic Paleontology.