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An ancient flesh-eating species with teeth capable of slicing up large animals has been identified at an Australian fossil site.
The now-extinct marsupial terrorised the forests of Australia some five million years ago.
At 20 to 25kg (44 to 55 pounds), it weighed more than twice as much than its distant cousin and the country's current master in the flesh-eating stakes, the Tasmanian devil.The Whollydooleya tomnpatrichorum is the first creature to be formally identified among the new animals whose remains were found at a fossil site in the Queensland outback.
The New Riversleigh site was discovered in 2012 and a team from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) began exploring it the following year.
One of their first discoveries was the Whollydooleya's highly distinctive molar teeth.UNSW professor Mike Archer, the lead author of a study into the find, said the animal "had very powerful teeth capable of killing and slicing up the largest animals of its day"."New Riversleigh is producing the remains of a bevy of strange new small to medium-sized creatures," he added.
"These new discoveries are starting to fill in a large hole in our understanding about how Australia's land animals transformed from being small denizens of its ancient wet forests to huge survivors on the second most arid continent on Earth."
The Whollydooleya has been linked to the late Miocene period between 12 and five million years ago - a time when Australia began to dry out and megafauna (large animals) began to evolve..Prof Archer said this period is one of the least understood in the continent's past and fossils of land animals from that time are very rare.
Some fossils from this period had previously been found in Australia's Northern Territory but UNSW team member Suzanne Hand said these were medium to large-sized creatures.
"(They) give almost no information about the small to medium-sized mammals that existed at the same time, which generally provide more clues about the nature of prehistoric environments and climates," she said.
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