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Giant short-faced kangaroo fossil found in Australia

Giant short-faced kangaroo fossil found in Australia

Paleontologists have discovered a skeleton that is about 50,000 years old Simosthenurus occidentalis, a species of giant short-faced kangaroo at Nightshade Cave in eastern Victoria, Australia. What do we know about this animal?

A rare find

Stenurines, or Short-faced kangaroos, appeared in the Australian fossil record 10 to 15 million years ago, at a time when vast rainforests were giving way to arid habitats. According to Museums Victoria Research Institute Collections Manager Dr Tim Ziegler, these kangaroos became particularly diverse at the end of the Pleistocene around 500,000 years ago with the arrival of today's drier climate.

These animals, which developed jaws similar to those of the giant panda, eventually became extinct. 45,000 yearsUp to 85% of Australia's megafauna during the mass extinction.

The discovery of this skeleton Simosthenurus occidentalis In 2011 a local cave team found the skull in Nightshade Cave. Ten years later, in 2021, professional paleontologists discovered the remains of the latter's skeleton. Dr. According to Ziegler, the skull is differentiated A deep nose and strong jaws Characteristics of short-faced kangaroos.

Behind the skull we found vertebrae, shoulders, hips, joints and a short rib cage, many bones completely intact and in their original position. This is a single animal, not a random scattering of bones. It was like a fossil Holy Grail“, does he have Explain.

Description of the short-faced kangaroo. Credit: Nobu Tamura

A young model

According to the analyses, the teeth show little wear, while the bones of the skull are still unfused. Also, the ends of the joints are not yet connected. Based on these characteristics, the team identified the specimen as a juvenile, which distinguishes it from other fossils of the species. Based on the size of the limbs, this young kangaroo It weighs about 80 kgIt's like an average person.

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Note that as adults, some specimens can reach three meters in length, two meters in height and weigh up to 220 kg.

Simosthenurus occidentalis Short-faced Kangaroo
The fossil skeleton of a young kangaroo is 71% complete. Credits: Tim Garafa/Museums Victoria

It became like this 150 bones have been preserved, believed to be the most complete fossil skeleton ever found in a Victorian cave, is now housed in the Melbourne Museum. Detailed 3D models allow researchers to study it from anywhere in the world.

One of the main questions the researchers wanted to answer with this discovery was whether sthenurine kangaroos They were advancing rather than bouncing, as their current descendants do. The discovery therefore opens the way to a better understanding of the evolution and behaviors of prehistoric kangaroos, thereby enriching our knowledge of the endangered Australian megafauna.