New species of prehistoric marsupial lion unearthed in Australia

Rodiano Bonacci
Dicembre 7, 2017

The Wakaleo schouteni didn't have almost the same toothy "smile", based on fossilized remains of its skull, teeth and an upper arm bone.

"It is quite possible that this animal was able to climb trees and pursue its prey through the tree-tops, like a leopard", Dr Gillespie told The New Daily.

The new discovery, dubbed Wakaleo schouteni, was a meat-eating animal that weighed approximately 23 kilograms (50 pounds), and hunted in the Australian rainforests 18-26 million years ago.

It was found at the internationally-renowned Riversleigh World Heritage Area in remote north-western Queensland state, where the remains of a bevy of unusual new small to medium-sized creatures have been discovered.

The marsupial was tiny compared to previous species of ancient marsupials discovered on the continent.

The new species is about a fifth of the weight of the largest and last surviving marsupial lion, Thylacoleo carnifex, that weighed in at around 130 kilogrammes and which has been extinct for 30,000 years, they said.

These large marsupials existed many million years after the newly discovered, smaller and older marsupial lion.

The Thylacoleonidae family of marsupial were categorized by their highly distinct large, blade-like, flesh-cutting premolars which were used to tear up prey.

The discovery, published in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, comes just a year after the fossilised remains of a kitten-sized marsupial lion were found in the same famous fossil site in Queensland. The UNSW scientists named that miniature predator Microleo attenboroughi after BBC's animal documentary broadcasting legend Sir David Attenborough.

With the new discovery, scientists have now identified two separate marsupial lion species in Australia.

The other species called the Wakaleo pitikantensis, was slightly smaller and was identified from teeth and limb bones discovered near Lake Pitikanta in South Australia in 1961.

The similarities between the new species and Priscileo pitikantensis, specifically the presence of three upper premolars and four molars, prompted the researchers to reclassify P. pitikantensis as a Wakaleo. Further similarities of the teeth and humerus which are shared with W. schouteni indicate that P. pitikantensis is a species of Wakaleo. The W. schouteni and W. pitikantensis showed premolar and molar reduction which showed the team that they are the most primitive members of the genus.

Lead author Dr Anna Gillespie, a palaeontologist at UNSW in Sydney, said the latest finding raises new questions about the evolutionary relationships of marsupial lions.

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