Researchers discovered the fossils of a now extinct Australian marsupial lion that have lived in the top of the trees and weighed around 1.3 pounds.
The finding took place in the north-western Queensland, Australia. The creature is supposed to have lived 18 million years ago.
The Australian Marsupial Lion
The scientists chose the name Microleo attenboroughi, being a tribute to a famous broadcaster Sir David Attenborough, who is also a naturalist. Sir Attenborough had been supporting the Riversleigh World Heritage Area, where the fossil had been found.
The species is very small, being the smallest of the extinct family. While the Australian marsupial lion is only 1.3 pounds, the biggest lion Thylacoleo carnifex can grow up to 220 pounds.
The fossil had been found in a limestone deposit called Neville’s Garden Site. The deposit formed in a former rainforest landscape millions of years ago, in the Miocene. The researchers retrieved only parts of the skull and teeth of the small lion.
The experts say that, even though the size of the marsupial lion was very small, the creature was one of the larger carnivorous mammals living in the ancient rainforests.
The lion probably scampered from one tree-top to another, eating insects and small vertebrates while avoiding to become a prey to its bigger relatives, as it is believed very few mammals lived in Australia at that time in history.
The Australian marsupial lion was the first to be discovered in Riversleigh, and scientists have little information on the species lifestyle. The experts are now hoping to find a complete skeleton, in order to get more data on the small creature.
The skeleton was extracted from the limestone with the help of acetic acid. The discovery had been made by a volunteer who spotted the teeth coming out from the rock because of water dissolving the limestone.
The marsupial lions are belonging to an extinct family related to wombats and koalas. As far as the scientists have discovered so far, the prehistoric family is composed of nine species, with Thylacoleo carnifex being the most famous and gigantic of them all.
The scientists found a lot of information by analyzing the teeth, which helped researchers conclude that the small animal was an arboreal predator that fed off smaller creatures.
In a similar limestone deposit, the researchers discovered another marsupial species which was named Whollydooleya tomnpatrichoru, and lived 5 million years ago, a distant relative of the modern Tasmanian devil.
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