Thursday, 18 February 2016

Australia's marsupial lions 'dropped from trees' to attack prey, study finds

Flinders University researchers reveal the extinct megafauna were adept climbers, tore meat cleanly off bones and reared their young in caves


Tuesday 16 February 2016 06.44 GMTLast modified on Tuesday 16 February 201606.45 GMT

When humans first set foot in Australia about 50,000 years ago, they could have faced ferocious marsupial lions that ambushed prey from trees and grew to the size of African lions. A new study reveals the now-extinct megafauna were adept climbers, could tear meat cleanly off bones, and reared their young in caves.

The precise behaviour of Thylacoleo carnifex, or marsupial lion, has been a matter of much controversy. Over time, theories have suggested it was everything from a consumer of crocodile eggs to a hyena-like scavenger and a leopard-like predator that dragged its prey into trees.

Now a cave on the south-western tip of Australia known as Tight Entrance cave, which is brimming with bones of the marsupial lions and their prey and has scratch marks covering the walls, has helped paint a detailed picture of its ferocious capabilities.

Gavin Prideaux and Samuel Arman, from Flinders University in Adelaide, examined hundreds of scratch marks on the cave’s walls and identified a large set of marks that were clearly from the marsupial lion, which became extinct about 40,000 years ago.

“The fact that they might have been bowling down crevices to get into caves is a nice idea,” said Mike Archer, a paleontologist from the University of New South Wales.

They found many of the claw marks were gouged into steep surfaces, even though there were paths through the cave with more gradual inclines. “This suggests regular, confident and purposeful climbing with a high degree of agility,” the researchers wrote in the journal Scientific Reports.



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