An Australian species of marsupial lion, extinct for at least 19 million years, has been discovered by researchers in remote northwestern Queensland.
The meat-eating lion, the size of a dog and weighing about 23kg, was identified through fossilised remains found in the Riversleigh World Heritage Area, the nation’s most lucrative* fossil site.
Named in honour of palaeoartist* Peter Schouten, Wakaleo schouteni was a predator that stalked Australia’s abundant* rainforests some 18 to 26 million years ago in the late Oligocene to early Miocene era.
University of New South Wales (UNSW) scientists analysed the marsupial’s skull, teeth and humerus (upper arm bone) to identify the new species.
Previously discovered ancient Australian marsupial lions have ranged in size.
Kitten-sized miniature predator, Microleo attenboroughi, was found last year in the same area and named in honour of Sir David Attenborough.
Far larger was the 130kg Thylacoleo carnifex, Australasia’s largest and last surviving, which disappeared 30,000 years ago.
Members of the Thylacoleonidae family had large, bladelike, flesh-cutting premolar teeth they used to tear up prey.
UNSW scientists believe two different species of marsupial lion were present in the late Oligocene period 25 million years ago.
The second species, Wakaleo pitikantensis, was slightly smaller and was identified from teeth and limb bones discovered near Lake Pitikanta in South Australia in 1961.
“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,” UNSW palaeontologist Dr Anna Gillespie said.
The findings were published in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology and Taylor & Francis.
lucrative: produces a lot
palaeoartist: artist who attempts to depict prehistoric life according to current knowledge and scientific evidence
abundant: lots of something
unexpected: not expected
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Activity 1. Marsupial lion
Write a summary of this article.
Include the most important details in a short paragraph.
Write five comprehension questions for this article that you can give to a partner to complete. The answers must be able to be found in the article.
Extension: Life 26 million years ago
- Imagine that the Wakaleo schouteni was alive in 2017.
- How would life be different now compared to when they were alive millions of year ago?
- What would be its prey from this time period?
- Where would it live?
- What predators and dangers would there be today that would not have been around 26 million years ago?
Time: allow 45 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum links: English, Science, Critical and Creative Thinking
Activity 2. Compare and contrast
Use information in the article and from further research to compare and contrast the Australian marsupial lions that have been discovered.
Draw up a table with a column for each marsupial lion mentioned in the article.
Include as much of the following as possible:
- Physical features
- Where and when its fossils were discovered
- When the species existed
- What they ate
Extension: What’s your impression?
The article includes an artist’s impression of what the Wakaleo schouteni might have looked like.
What is your impression? Draw what you think it might have looked like using coloured pencils.
You could also draw the environment it lived in. Use information from the article to help you.
If you have time, have a go at drawing the other lions mentioned in the article.
Time: allow at least 60 minutes to complete this task
Curriculum links: English, Science, The Arts — Visual Arts
After reading the article, with a partner, highlight as many wow words or ambitious pieces of vocabulary that you can find in yellow. Discuss the meanings of these words and see if you can use them orally in another sentence.
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