Scientists have discovered a strange new species of marsupial lion in northern Australia. The fearsome predator has been extinct for at least 18 million years.
The animal was uncovered by a team of Australian scientists who analyzed fossilized remains of its skull, teeth and upper arm bone, all found in the Riversleigh World Heritage Area of remote north-western Queensland.
The team, from the University of New South Wales, published their findings in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology and named the strange creature ‘Wakaleo schouteni’ in honor of palaeo-artist Peter Schouten.
Wakaleo schouteni was a meat-eating, marsupial, predator that roamed Australia’s rainforests some 18 to 26 million years ago. It’s estimated to be as big as a medium-sized dog, weighing about 23kg (51lb), according to the study.
The extinct species is a member of the Thylacoleonidae family, known for their large, blade-like premolars for cutting their prey’s flesh. The last surviving marsupial lion, a Thylacoleo carnifex, weighed about 130kg and became extinct some 30,000 years ago.
The discovery comes just one year after scientists uncovered the fossilized remains of a kitten-sized marsupial lion on the same Queensland site. That species was named ‘Microleo attenboroughi’ after broadcaster Sir David Attenborough.
Researchers say this new finding raises questions about the evolutionary relationships of marsupial lions, because of skull and dental similarities that W. schouteni shares with another species present at least 25 million years ago called ‘Priscileo pitikantensis’.
“The identification of these new species have brought to light a level of marsupial lion diversity that was quite unexpected and suggest even deeper origins for the family,” said lead author of the study Dr Anna Gillespie.