Friday, 19 August 2016

This Marsupial Lion Was the Size of a Squirrel

The ancient carnivore is one of two new pouched mammals recently discovered based on fossil teeth and jaws.

By Aaron Sidder


Vinegar is a handy liquid to have around. You can use it to clean your computer mouse, wipe down your blinds, and remove carpet stains. Or, even better, you can use it to discover some seriously cool extinct animals.

Acetic acid—one of vinegar’s main constituents—is commonly used as a chemical treatment to unlock delicate fossils from their rocky shackles. Recently, paleontologists in a remote corner of Australia used the procedure to extract the teeth of two long-dead mammal species from blocks of limestone.

Though the teeth are the only remains of the newly discovered species, we can glean plenty of details from a set of chompers. As paleontologist Steve Wroe says, “you can get a hell of a lot of information from a single tooth!”

For starters, one fossil jaw turned out to be a new addition to a bizarre family of meat-eating mammals called the marsupial lions. But unlike its previously discovered cousins, the new pouched creature was exceptionally tiny, coming in at about the size of a grey squirrel.

“This animal was just so small—it’s quite extraordinary,” says Anna Gillespie, the University of New South Wales paleontologist who found and identified the new species. “To me, it’s quite stunning.”

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