Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Did the "Marsupial Lion" Climb Trees?

Restoration of the skull of Thylacoleo. From The Ancient Life History of the Earth.

Thylacoleo was one strange mammal. A close relative of living koalas, kangaroos, and wombats, the largest species of Thylacoleo were lion-sized carnivores that stalked the Australian continent between 2 million and 45 thousand years ago. Despite its popular nickname "marsupial lion", however, Thylacoleo was quite different from any feline predator. Even though its long forelimbs were tipped with retractable claws its skull more closely resembled that of a koala, with curved incisors set in front of a pair of cleaver-like shearing teeth. This resemblance caused some naturalists to believe that Thylacoleo was just another herbivore, but more recent studies have confirmed that it most certainly was a carnivore.

But what kind of predator was Thylacoleo? Some have proposed that it hunted down prey and then dragged it into the trees, as a leopard does, while others have argued that it was more lion-like in habit. The entire argument hinges upon whether Thylacoleo could climb trees or not, which in turn rests on our understanding of the predator's anatomy. The details of the skeleton of Thylacoleo, particularly its hands and feet, can provide paleontologists with clues as to what it was capable of. Unfortunately scientists have had to cope with an incomplete understanding of the hind feet of Thylacoleo for years, but a recent discovery from an Australian cave has brought new information to the discussion. As reported by paleontologists Roderick Wells, Peter Murray, and Steven Bourne in the latest issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology a complete hind foot of Thylacoleo has finally been found.

Full post at Laelaps

Posted via email from Garth's posterous

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