Australia’s Marsupial Lions Dropped From Trees To Grab Prey

Video highlights from Wild Australia

The secrets of the Australia’s now-extinct megafauna

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.

Thylacoleo carnifex

[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.

T. carnifex

[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.

[Header image: Reptile Encounters]

Discuss this article


Never miss a Nat Geo moment

Your email address
We use our own and third-party cookies to improve our services, personalise your advertising and remember your preferences. If you continue browsing, or click on the accept button on this banner, we understand that you accept the use of cookies on our website. For more information visit our Cookies Policy AcceptClose cookie policy overlay