New species of extinct lion discovered in Australia

The new discovery, dubbed Wakaleo schouteni, was a meat-eating animal that weighed approximately 23 kilograms (50 pounds), and hunted in the Australian rainforests 18-26 million years ago.

The findings are based on the discovery of fossilised remains of an animal's skull, teeth and upper arm bone found in the Riversleigh World Heritage Area of remote north-western Queensland.

They identified the lion from an nearly complete skull, teeth, and upper arm bones.

The marsupial was tiny compared to previous species of ancient marsupials discovered on the continent.

W. schouteni's is about a fifth of the weight of the largest and last surviving marsupial lion, Thylacoleo carnifex, which weighed around 130 kilograms and has been extinct for around 30,000 years.

A new species of extinct lion that inhabited lush rainforest more than 18 million years ago has been discovered in the Australian outback. There are now nine known species, which increased in size over millions of years.

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Members of the Thylacoleonidae family of extinct marsupials ranged from the size of kitten to a leopard and had distinct large, blade-like, flesh-cutting premolar teeth.

A smaller marsupial lion was found at the same site in Queensland past year. That one was dubbed Microleo attenboroughi, in honour of Sir David Attenborough, noted broadcaster and frequent narrator for nature documentaries.

Following the latest find, the researchers believe that two different species of marsupial lion were present in the late Oligocene at least 25 million years ago. The other, originally named Priscileo pitikantensis, but renamed 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 similarities between the new species and Priscileo pitikantensis, specifically the presence of three upper premolars and four molars, prompted the researchers to reclassify P. pitikantensis as a Wakaleo. The W. schouteni and W. pitikantensis showed premolar and molar reduction which showed the team that they are the most primitive members of the genus.

Lead author Dr Anna Gillespie, a palaeontologist from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney, Australia says that the latest finding raises new questions about the evolutionary relationships of marsupial lions: "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". The animal was named W. schouteni, in honor of palaeo-artist Peter Schouten.

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