A team of researchers from the University of New South Wales, Australia, stumbled upon some interesting fossils in the northwest of Queensland, in the Riversleigh Heritage Area. This prehistoric animal appears to have populated Australia 26 million years ago, and was some sort of marsupial lion.
The marsupial lion was the size of a dog
While digging in the area, the researchers discovered the humerus, teeth, and skull of an animal which was about the size of a dog, weighing around 50 pounds. Judging from the shape of its teeth and skull, they could tell it was a carnivore. After a quick analysis, they established it came from a period between late Oligocene and early Miocene, so it must have lived between 18 and 26 million years ago.
This dog-sized creature was actually a marsupial lion, although it was small compared to other marsupials which populated the continent. For instance, it measured only a fifth of the entire size of Tylacoleo carnifex, the biggest ancient marsupial in Australia. However, the big predators appeared many years after the smaller species went extinct.
The lion shared features with more modern marsupials
Both species belonged to the same family, the Tylacoleonidae. These animals were distinct, as they had big and sharp premolars which they used to tear up their prey. This latest discovery came soon after the researchers discovered another marsupial lion in the area, which was only the size of a kitten. The tiny predator was given the name Microleo attenboroughi.
For the dog-sized marsupial lion, the scientists settled upon the name Wakaleo schouteni, as it shares many characteristics with other specimens belonging to the same genus. Most of these similarities concern their teeth and skull, which all had carnivore particularities. However, the older species had different molars from the newer ones, revealing how the denture evolved over time in the genus.