New species of extinct lion discovered in Australia

The scientists named the new species after wildlife artist Peter Schouten who painted many of the team's earlier discoveries

The scientists named the new species after wildlife artist Peter Schouten who painted many of the team's earlier discoveries

A new species of extinct lion that inhabited lush rainforest more than 18 million years ago has been discovered in the Australian outback.

Riversleigh, located about 250 kilometres north-west of Mount Isa in Queensland, is one of Australia's most important fossil sites as it contains remains from ancient mammals, birds and reptiles from the Oligocene (33.9 to 23 million years ago) and Miocene (23 to 5.3 million years ago) epochs.

It was found at the internationally-renowned Riversleigh World Heritage Area in the remote north-western Queensland state, where the remains of a bevvy of unusual new small to medium-sized creatures have been discovered.

The latest find includes the fossilised remains of the animal´s skull, teeth, and humerus, or upper arm bone.

Thought to be about the size of a dog, the animal enjoyed a bountiful carnivorous diet. The marsupial weighed around 50 pounds (23 kilograms).

It is also closely related to the last surviving species of marsupial lion, Thylacoleo carnifex, which had enormous dagger-like fangs and the strongest bite of any known mammal species. The large species has been extinct for only about 30,000 years. Members of this family, the Thylacoleonidae, had highly distinct large, blade-like, flesh-cutting premolars that they used to tear up prey.

Last year, a tiny "kitten-sized" marsupial lion was found at the site and named after veteran British naturalist David Attenborough.

With the new discovery, scientists have now identified two separate marsupial lion species in Australia.

The other species called the Wakaleo pitikantensis, was slightly smaller and was identified from teeth and limb bones discovered near Lake Pitikanta in South Australia in 1961. There are many skull and dental features that the W. schouteni display that are very similar to their closest relatives.

The latest discovery reveals that the new species (W. schouteni) shared a number of similarities with P. pitikantensis - particularly the presence of three upper premolars and four molars.

The researchers said the dental similarities distinguish W. schouteni and W. pitikantensis from later species of the genus, all of which show premolar and molar reduction, and suggest that they are the most primitive members of the genus.

"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", said at Dr Anna Gillespie, a palaeontologist at the University of New South Wales and lead author of the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology paper describing the new species. The animal was named W. schouteni, in honor of palaeo-artist Peter Schouten.

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