The fossilised tooth from a previously-unknown marsupial has been uncovered in remote Queensland.
Whollydooleya tomnpatrichorum is a larger, distant cousin of what is currently Australia’s largest flesh-eating marsupial, the Tasmanian Devil.
It’s the first creature to be formally identified from a range of strange new animals whose remains have been found in a recently discovered fossil site in Queensland dubbed ‘New Riversleigh’.
A size comparison of Australian marsupials [Image: Karen Black, UNSW]
With Australia’s increasing aridity, it’s been difficult for scientists to find fossils from animals living in the mysterious Miocene period (between 12 and 5 million years ago), like the Whollydooleya.
“Fortunately, in 2012, we discovered a whole new fossil field that lies beyond the internationally famous Riversleigh World Heritage Area fossil deposits in north-western Queensland,” says the study’s lead author, Professor Mike Archer.
The field was uncovered when PhD student Ned Stephens found a way to study satellite data for frequencies being returned from known fossil sites.
Stereophotographs of a lower molar of the new hypercarnivorous marsupial Whollydooleya tomnpatrichorum, the first of a range of unique animals found in Whollydooley Site rocks [Image: Suzanne Hand]
“The small to medium-size mammals from the New Riversleigh deposits will reveal a great deal about how Australia’s inland environments and animals changed between 12 and 5 million years ago – a critical time when increasing dryness ultimately led to the Ice Ages of the Pleistocene,” notes team member and UNSW postdoctoral researcher in palaeontology.
"These new discoveries are starting to fill in a large hole in our understanding about how Australia's land animals transformed from being small denizens of its ancient wet forests to huge survivors on the second most arid continent on Earth."
Header image: HK Colin/Flickr