Scientists Discover New Member of Lion Family

Researchers have classified a new species of marsupial carnivore which hunted Queensland’s rainforests 23 million years ago.

They made the discovery while studying fragments of bone that is believed to have been dug up decades ago at the heritage-listed Riversleigh Fossil Field in the state’s far north west.

It was originally thought the bones belonged to another species of Australian marsupial lion until the researchers discovered unique physical attributes in these fragments. It was about the size of today’s domestic cats, and it was previously believed to be part of the Priscileo Roskellyae (Thylacoleonidae) genus because of its teeth — with three premolars and four molars — and because of its relatively small size. “This little guy that we’re calling Lekaneleo roskellyae … was one of the tiniest marsupial lions we’ve ever seen. It was actually like a pussy cat in size,” Dr Archer said.

Now extinct, Lekaneleo is one of the smallest marsupial lions ever discovered and is characterised by its ‘bolt-cutting’ premolar teeth that were capable of easily slicing through bones. Dr Archer said Lekaneleo’s bone-slicing premolar teeth and small size set it apart from other geneses of marsupial lion. ‘They had an extraordinary, elongated, bolt-cutting type of premolar. This was the most extraordinary adaptation or evolution that a carnivorous mammal has ever developed anywhere in the world. ‘It is capable of slicing straight through bones.’

Despite its small size, Dr Archer said Lekaneleo would have been feared by other animals in the Riversleigh ancient rain-forest. Despite their name, marsupial lions are not closely related to modern lions that roam Africa or the endangered Asiatic lion in India as they evolved in isolation from the rest of the world.

The best known species of marsupial lion, often seen in museums, is the Thylacoleo Carnifex – the largest meat-eating mammal known to have ever existed in Australia. Thylacoleo Carnifex weighed an average of 101 to 130kg but larger individuals weighed up to 124–160kg.

Wisha Adnan
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