A new species of marsupial lion discovered in Queensland Australia

A pride of lions.

Via Wikimedia Commons

A pride of lions.

 

 Australian scientists have recently discovered a new species of marsupial lions in northwestern Queensland, Australia.  Marsupial lions are extinct carnivorous mammals that only inhabit Australia.   This precise marsupial lion holds the title as, Wakaleo Schouteni, named after Peter Schouten, the illustrator of Wakaleo Schouteni’s believed appearance.    

This particular marsupial lion was thought to be hunted by ambushing its prey from above by climbing up trees.  Some of the specimens found at the dig site has even determined that Wakaleo Schouteni had a unique thumb-like finger that allowed it to climb trees.  “By studying the fossilized remains of the animal’s teeth, skull, and humerus, the researchers determined the 50-pound climber roamed rainforests about 18 to 26 million years ago, during the late Oligocene and early Miocene eras.”   “The predator ranged from dog-size to leopard-size, and had a short head and large, blade-like teeth that could slice through flesh and munch on vegetation.”  

The first remains found of Wakaleo Schouteni was in the 1980s.  “The first piece of the puzzle was spotted by a keen-eyed volunteer in the 1980s, who saw some weathered bone and teeth protruding from the rocks in a steep gully in Riversleigh.”  “Paleontologists later discovered a skull, which was cleaved in two halves, and fragments of the postcranial skeleton – the humerus, sacrum and a few hand bones.”  

The astounding discovery has also led to a new understanding of how to specify Wakaleo Schouteni’s particular genus.  Wakaleo Schouteni has features that match those of the Priscileo family, a species of thylacoleonid marsupial, and the Wakaleo family.  “Suddenly we had to go, ‘Oh no, we can’t use this feature to characterize this genus,’” Dr. Gillespie said. “It showed us that the earlier forms of this genus had much more primitive features.”  An older fossil found in 1961 South Australia,  Priscileo Pitikantensis, had scientists change its title to Wakaleo Pitikantensis due to new findings.  “Further similarities of the teeth and humerus which are shared with W. Schouteni indicate that P. pitikantensis is a species of Wakaleo.”  

Walaleo Schouteni may also determine what Australia was like back then.  Experts say that there was most likely dense forest and rainforests.  “On the basis of the diversity of the mammals recovered from Riversleigh, the region in the late Oligocene and early Miocene Australia is believed to have been forested.”  “We think the earlier period (approximately 23 million years old)was a relatively open forest, and the later period (around 18 million years old), was a more closed forest,” Anna Gillespie, a technical researcher from UNSW, University of South Wales said.  Finding more unknown species like this one will help researchers know what Australia was like when marsupial lions were around and may lead to a more accurate identification of species.