Sydney, Australia. Australian scientists have discovered the fossils of a rare relative of the opossum and wombat, two unique and extinct marsupials believed to have roamed the Australian landscape 25 million years ago.
The fossil remains were discovered by Flinders University researchers during excavations between 2020 and 2022 south of the town of Alice Spring in the heart of the Australian desert, the university said in a statement.
Flinders researchers say the site dates to the late Oligocene and contains the earliest fossils of a now-extinct species of marsupials whose physical characteristics were similar to those of their modern-day relatives and other extinct animals.
The extinct animals found at the site were “Mucubirna fortidentata”, a wombat-like creature and “Sunya pedgyi”, a distant relative of the present opossum, according to a study recently published in the scientific journal “Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology”. “. and in “Alcheringa: An Australasian Journal of Palaeontology”.
“These curious animals are descended from long-extinct marsupials, with no descendants,” said Dr Arthur Crichton, from Flinders University’s Department of Palaeontology, who was involved in the discovery.
“Knowing about these animals helps us place the surviving wombat and opossum groups in a larger evolutionary context,” added Crichton.
From photographs of 35 specimens found at the site, scientists were able to determine that “Mugupirna fortidentata” weighed about 50 kilograms and looked like a cross between a modern wombat and a marsupial lion (“Thylacolio carnifex”).
Believed to be a branch of the wombat ancestor, this extinct animal had powerful jaws and large squirrel-like incisors to crush hard fruits, seeds and tubers, although its molars, in contrast, were animal-like. Macaws.
For its part, “Sunya pledge” is a marsupial with many sharp teeth like a “barcode”, which also helps in crushing food.
“Sunya Pledji had teeth that would be a dentist’s dream, with multiple crowns sitting together,” Crichton said.