Paleontologists announce new species of marsupial lion that lived about 18 million years ago

Paleontologists announce new species of marsupial lion that lived about 18 million years ago

The University of New South Wales’ paleontologists have identified a new species of marsupial lion that used to live nearly 18 million years back. They have found the skull fragments and teeth belonging of the presently-extinct at the Riversleigh World Heritage fossil area in Queensland, Australia.

Researchers have described the very tiny Microleo attenboroughi this week in the journal Palaeontologia Electronica. The creature has been named after British naturalist David Attenborough, who has written and narrated numerous wildlife documentaries, including as ‘Life’ and ‘Planet Earth’.

The so-called ‘micro lion’ wasn’t that similar to a lion, and was in reality an ancient, carnivorous marsupial, among the ones that lived in Australia in Miocene epoch. Weighing just over a pound, the tree-dwelling M. attenboroughi probably used its sharp molars to feast on tinnier animals.

In a statement, main author and UNSW paleontologist Anna Gillespie said that Microleo attenboroughi was probably one of those cute but still energetic kittens of the family.

Marsupial lions, not that huge, were the top predators of their time. Members like the leopard-sized Thylacoleo carnifex probably dwarfed their small cousin. As per the Australian Museum, the bite of T. carnifex is the strongest bite of any mammalian predator ever. The size of other members was closer to that of present day house cats.

M. attenboroughi was the smallest of its kind, but still among the larger flesh-eaters in the ancient Riversleigh rainforest ecosystem. It possibly feasted on lizards, insects, and birds.

But researchers don’t know anything much about the appearance and behavior of the small predator so far.

In a statement, UNSW paleontologist Mike Archer said, “Tantalising questions about the rest of its skull and skeleton which could further clarify aspects of its lifestyle – such as whether it had an enlarged ‘killing’ thumb claw like its Pleistocene relative – must await discovery of more complete specimens”.