Thylacoleo carnifex was one strange mammal.
A close relative of living koalas, kangaroos, and wombats, the largest species of T. carnifex were lion-sized carnivores that stalked the Australian continent between 2 million and 45 thousand years ago.
A new study has revealed that the “marsupial lion” was an adept climber, dropping from trees to attack prey.
Despite its popular nickname “marsupial lion”, however, T. carnifex was quite different from any feline predator.
[Image: Peter Schouten, UNSW]
Even though its long forelimbs were tipped with retractable claws, its skull more closely resembled that of a koala, with curved incisors set in front of a pair of cleaver-like shearing teeth
Unrivaled predator, leopard-size T. carnifex stalked open forest and shrubland in search of prey, which probably included newly arrived humans
Weighing up to 150 kilograms and up to measuring up to 30 centimetres at the shoulder, this hunter likely thrived as an ambush artist.
[Image: Gavin Prideaux, Flinders University]
Bursting from the undergrowth, it could throttle much larger game, grasping its prey with dagger-sharp thumb claws and finishing it off with its large front teeth.
Australian scientist Stephen Wroe, a specialist in marsupial carnivore evolution at the University of Sydney says T. carnifex was “just a lump of muscle and bone, and powerfully built,”
"It had a build that was closer to a bear than a cat. It probably preyed on slow but large prey. This creature was built to wrestle—its arm bones were twice as thick as a leopard's, and its skull was as wide as it was long,” Wroe notes.