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Devil’s Bigger Extinct Cousin Discovered

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A new species of extinct carnivorous marsupial has been identified from a fossil discovered in north-western Queensland.

Weighing in it 20–25 kg, Whollydooleya tomnpatrichorum is a distant cousin of Australia’s largest living carnivorous marsupial, the Tasmanian Devil – and about twice as large.

A description of the new marsupial, based on its fossil molar tooth, has been published in the Memoirs of Museum Victoria. “W. tomnpatrichorum had very powerful teeth capable of killing and slicing up the largest animals of its day,” says the study’s lead author Prof Mike Archer of the University of NSW.

During the late Miocene period 5–12 million years ago, Australia began to dry out and the megafauna began to evolve. However, the arid conditions were largely unsuitable for fossil preservation, making this period one of the most mysterious and least well-understood.

“Fortunately, in 2012, we discovered a whole new fossil field that lies beyond the internationally famous Riversleigh World Heritage Area fossil deposits in north-western Queensland,” Archer says. “This exciting new area – New Riversleigh – was detected by remote sensing using satellite data.”

The New Riversleigh deposit provides clues about how the environment was changing 5–12 million years ago, when increasing dryness ultimately led to the ice ages of the Pleistocene. For example...

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