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A new type of ancient marsupial lion with razor-sharp teeth has been discovered in Queensland

Jack Gramenz, March 1, 2020 7:39PM

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The ancient marsupial lion was about the size of a house cat. Picture: Peter Schouten media_cameraThe ancient marsupial lion was about the size of a house cat. Picture: Peter Schouten


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A new type of lion that roamed* Australia tens of millions of years ago has been discovered in northwest Queensland.

A fossil found in the Riversleigh World Heritage area near the border with the Northern Territory was originally thought to be part of a different genus* of marsupial lions, but recent discoveries about its teeth have shown it was actually a separate genus.

A new paper published by University of New South Wales researchers in the Journal of Vertebrate* Paleontology* said the lion was about the size of a house cat and lived in ancient Australia about 23 to 34 million years ago. It has been named Lekaneleo roskellyae.

An artist impression of marsupial lion now known as Lekaneleo roskellya. Picture: Peter Schouten media_cameraAn artist’s impression of how the marsupial lion would have looked. Picture: Peter Schouten

Co-author Professor Michael Archer told ABC News that the lion, which was originally found in 1997 before being recently re-examined, has teeth “capable of slicing straight through bones”.

“They had an extraordinary, elongated*, bolt-cutting type of premolar*,” he said.

“This was the most extraordinary adaptation* or evolution* that a carnivorous* mammal has ever developed anywhere in the world.”

Now long extinct*, the new genus will be recorded alongside other relics of Australia’s historical fauna*.

media_cameraA Tasmanian tiger (thylacine), which was declared extinct in 1936. Picture: AFP

Animals like the thylacine (commonly known as the Tasmanian tiger) and megafauna like the diprotodon (the largest marsupial* ever discovered) once called Australia home.

Extinction fears are also mounting for modern Australian marsupials such as the platypus and koala, particularly since recent bushfires killed tens of thousands of koalas and destroyed the habitat* of those that remain.

The Kangaroo Island dunnart, Pugh’s frog and the Blue Mountains water skink are at imminent* risk of extinction due to the scale of habitat loss from the summer bushfires.

The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment has published a list of 113 animal species that need urgent help to survive in the wake of devastating bushfires.

The provisional list includes 13 birds, 19 mammals, 20 reptiles, 17 frogs, five invertebrates, 22 spiny crayfish and 17 freshwater fish species.

Professor Archer said there were lessons to be learned from the latest lion fossil discovery and the previous extinctions.

“It makes us understand that the total effect that has happened in Australia is a steady loss of the complexities* that was normal in the forests in Australia,” he said.


  • roamed: walked
  • genus: group of animals
  • vertebrate: having a backbone
  • palaeontology: the science concerned with fossil animals and plants
  • elongated: long
  • premolar: a tooth situated between the canine and the molar teeth.
  • adaptation: alteration or change
  • evolution: the gradual development of something
  • carnivorous: meat eating
  • extinct: when a type of animal is no longer alive
  • fauna: animals of a region, habitat, or geological period
  • marsupial: animals whose young are carried in a pouch
  • habitat: natural home of an animal
  • imminent: about to happen
  • complexities: difficulties


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  1. What is the name of the ancient lion?
  2. How many years ago did it live?
  3. What is special about its teeth?
  4. Where was it found?
  5. Name two other native Australian animals in danger of extinction.


1. Non-fiction writing
Write and design a page about Lekaneleo roskellyae for a non-fiction book called “Ancient Beasts”. Your page should include common features of non-fiction texts such as:

  • A heading and sub-headings
  • Bold words with definitions
  • Scientific language
  • Diagrams

Time: allow 1 hour to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science

2. Extension
Choose one of the native animals that are currently at risk of extinction due to bushfires and find out more about the situation and write a paragraph (or more) explaining their current status and what action is required to save the species.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Science

After reading the article, with a partner, highlight as many pieces of punctuation as you can find in green. Discuss how these are being used, where and how often. What level of the punctuation pyramid is the journalist using in this article?

HAVE YOUR SAY: Are you concerned so many Australian native animals are facing extinction?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will show until approved by editors.

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