Australia’s prehistoric Lion revealed

By Kelly Jirsa

Thylacoleo skeleton in Naracoorte Caves. Image by Karora
Thylacoleo skeleton in Naracoorte Caves. Image by Karora

40,000 years ago or more an 8 to 100 kilogram large marsupial lion roamed the continent of Australia. Thylacoleo carnifex is said to have “powerful forearms and large, retractable thumb claws suggest a fierce, powerful predator” according to the Australian Museum.

Scientists at Flinders University in South Australia have discovered new evidence that tells us more about this mysterious prehistoric creature. Researchers,, Gavin Prideaux and Samuel Arman say that that the marsupial lion was “one of the most unique meat-eating mammals ever to have lived.”

Thylacoleo carnifex skull. Image by Ghedoghedo
Thylacoleo carnifex skull. Image by Ghedoghedo

The Australian lion is not your ordinary lion. Palaeontologists believe that the lion may have either evolved from the same family of species as wombats and koalas or possibly possums.

This special marsupial was once a top predator in Australia 50,000 years ago and shared the land with humans for an estimated 10,000 years; the first people arrived in Australia 40,000 years ago.

For 150 years there have been many debates amongst the science community about the lion’s nature and behaviour, but now the Flinders University researchers have uncovered new evidence that accurately show us how these mysterious creatures lived.

The paper written by Professor Prideaux, with fellow researcher Sam Arman, have revealed “two new aspects of the marsupial lion — they were excellent climbers and reared their young in caves.” They discovered these details about the lion through their studies of fossilised bones and markings inside the Naracoorte Caves, in one of South Australia’s national parks.

The thousands of scratch marks meticulously studied by the team have led them to understand more about the way these animals lived and made a home. The team discovered that the marks in steep areas suggested that the lions built or carved out a lair, rather than use regular naturally occurring entrances and exits. They told the Guardian, “This suggests regular, confident and purposeful climbing with a high degree of agility.”

This research gives us a clearer picture of the kind of fauna that made up the large continent before settlement. The ancestors of koalas, possums and wombats could well have been a cunning and kindred species.



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