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Recently discovered remains of the extinct Thylacoleo carnifex have forced a rethink of the marsupial lion’s biomechanics © Getty

Skeleton of Australia’s marsupial lion rebuilt

Published: 02nd February, 2019 at 00:00
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Recently discovered remains of the extinct Thylacoleo carnifex have forced a rethink of the marsupial lion’s biomechanics.

The first-ever complete reconstruction of the skeleton of Australia’s extinct marsupial lion reveals the animal to have been a fearsome ambush predator and an adept climber.

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An analysis of several sets of remains of Thylacoleo carnifex, including one nearly complete fossil, carried out at Flinders University has allowed researchers to reconstruct the animal’s entire skeleton for the first time.

The extinct marsupial lion lived in Australia during the Pleistocene. It was first discovered in 1859 from skull and jaw fragments collected at Lake Colongulac, and was later sent to the British Museum in London. It has remained something of a mystery ever since.

The new fossils, discovered in Komatsu Cave in Naracoorte and Flight Star Cave in the Nullarbor Plain, include the first known remains of the tail and collarbone of T. carnifex. Analysis of the fossils shows it had a rigid lower back and powerful forelimbs anchored by strong collarbones, likely making it poorly suited for chasing prey, but well adapted for ambush hunting and scavenging.

Its tail was likely stiff and heavily muscled, allowing it to perch on its hind limbs in a tripod position as it used its forelimbs for handling food or climbing. The anatomy of T. carnifex appears most similar to the Tasmanian devil, a modern-day carnivore that exhibits many of these inferred behaviours, researchers say.


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Authors

Jason Goodyer
Jason GoodyerCommissioning editor, BBC Science Focus

Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.

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