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

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.