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Australia: Paleontologists identify wombat ancestor

Australia: Paleontologists identify wombat ancestor

Fossils discovered by Australian researchers have revealed that a tall ancestor of the wombat that roamed the Australian outback 25 million years ago ate fruits and nuts.

A team from Flinders University has collected fossils found in the Northern Territory that helped identify the marsupial christened Mukupirna fortidentata, a species long extinct.

Archaeologists have also found traces of another extinct animal, called Sunia pledji, with “peculiar nutcracker-like teeth”.

“These curious animals are descended from marsupials that died out a long time ago and have no contemporary descendants,” explained Arthur Crichton of Flinders University’s Paleontology Laboratory.

“Learning from these animals helps place the groups of wombats and possums that exist today in a larger evolutionary context.”

Fossils have been discovered in several excavations in the past decade, allowing researchers to reconstruct extinct animals in the laboratory.

The wombat-like Mukupirna fortidentata had a powerful bite, ate hard fruits and nuts, and according to paleontologists weighed up to 50 kilograms, making it one of the largest marsupials of its time.

The animal is related to the 2020-discovered genus Mukupirna nampensis, a much larger relative than most of today’s wombats.

The exact reasons for the disappearance of this ancestor of the wombat are not known, but his species went extinct at a time marked by climate change, where areas of central Australia covered by ancient forests became increasingly dry, said director of palaeontology Gavin Prideaux. Laboratory.

“Although wombats experienced a major boom in the later period, mucopirnids seem to have gone extinct before the end of the Late Oligocene, 23 to 25 million years ago,” Ms Prideaux said.

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Little is known about the possum, a member of the Ectopontontidae family, because it is so rare, but Mr Crichton said it had a lemon-like face with ‘very strange teeth’.