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Fossils of two Australian marsupials, 25 million years old, have been found

Sydney, Australia. Australian scientists have discovered fossils of a rare opossum and an exotic relative of wombats, two unique and extinct marsupials believed to have roamed the Australian mainland 25 million years ago.

These fossil remains were discovered by a group of researchers from Flinders University during excavations conducted between 2020 and 2022 south of Alice Spring, in the middle of the Australian desert, the university said in a statement.

The Flinders researchers confirmed that this site, which dates back to the late Oligocene, harbors the oldest known fossils of a certain species of now-extinct marsupials, whose physical characteristics were similar to their present-day relatives, as well as other rare extinct animals.

Extinct animals found at this site are “Mukupirna fortidentata,” a wombat-like creature, and “Chunia bondgei,” a distant relative of the current opossum, according to the study recently published in the scientific journal “Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.” In “Alcheringa: An Australian Journal of Paleontology.”

“These curious beasts are members of a long-extinct line of marsupials that leave no descendants,” said Arthur Crichton, a PhD student in paleontology from Flinders University who was involved in the finds.

“Identifying these animals helps put the surviving wombat and opossum populations into a larger evolutionary context,” Crichton added.

Of the 35 specimens found at this site, the scientists were able to determine that the “Mukupirna fortidentata” weighed about 50 kilograms and resembled a cross between a modern wombat and a marsupial lion (“Thylacoleo carnifex”).

This extinct animal, thought to be an ancestral offshoot of the wombat, had powerful jaws and large squirrel-like front teeth that enabled it to crush hard fruits, seeds, and tubers, though its molars, by contrast, were similar to those of macaques.

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For its part, Chunya Bundji was a marsupial with many sharp teeth arranged like a barcode, which also served to crush food.

“Chunya pledged a tooth that would be a dentist’s nightmare, with so many crowns sitting next to each other,” Shrikhton said.