New species of extinct 'marsupial lion' discovered in Australia

A new species of extinct lion that inhabited lush rainforest more than 18 million years ago has been discovered in the Australian outback

A new species of extinct lion that inhabited lush rainforest more than 18 million years ago has been discovered in the Australian outback

The predatory creature, named Wakaleo schouteni, is a relative of modern marsupials - mammals like kangaroos and koalas that keep their young in pouches, reported The Independent.

The new species is about a fifth of the weight of the largest and last surviving marsupial lion, Thylacoleo carnifex, that weighed in at around 130 kilogrammes and which has been extinct for 30,000 years, they said.

The remains of the animal, estimated to have roamed the dense Australian forests about 18 to 26 million years ago, was found by University of New South Wales (UNSW) scientists in the Riversleigh World Heritage Area of remote northwestern Queensland.

The University of New South Wales scientists who made the discovery named the lion Wakaleo schouteni in honour of paleoartist Peter Schouten. The marsupial weighed around 50 pounds (23 kilograms).

Members of the Thylacoleonidae family of extinct marsupials ranged from the size of kitten to a leopard and had distinct large, blade-like, flesh-cutting premolar teeth.

According to a news release, this discovery follows another fossil of a kitten-sized marsupial lion which was found in the same famous fossil site in Queensland earlier this year.

Riversleigh, located about 250 kilometres north-west of Mount Isa in Queensland, is one of Australia's most important fossil sites as it contains remains from ancient mammals, birds and reptiles from the Oligocene (33.9 to 23 million years ago) and Miocene (23 to 5.3 million years ago) epochs.

The fossils were found in Riversleigh World Heritage Area. Members of this family had'highly distinct large blade-like flesh-cutting premolars that they used to tear up prey

The animal's teeth were found sticking out of a small block of limestone, which researchers believe is about 18 million years old.

The latest find includes the fossilised remains of the animal´s skull, teeth, and humerus, or upper arm bone.

It was found at the internationally-renowned Riversleigh World Heritage Area in the remote north-western Queensland state, where the remains of a bevvy of odd new small to medium-sized creatures have been discovered.

The similarities between the new species and Priscileo pitikantensis, specifically the presence of three upper premolars and four molars, prompted the researchers to reclassify P. pitikantensis as a Wakaleo. The W. schouteni and W. pitikantensis showed premolar and molar reduction which showed the team that they are the most primitive members of the genus.

Lead author Dr Anna Gillespie, a palaeontologist at UNSW in Sydney, said the latest finding raises new questions about the evolutionary relationships of marsupial lions.

"The identification of these new species have brought to light a level of marsupial lion diversity that was quite unexpected and suggest even deeper origins for the family", Dr Gillespie said.