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Australia: Paleontologists identify wombat ancestor

Fossils unearthed by Australian researchers reveal that a towering ancestor of wombats capable of taking a powerful bite roamed the Australian outback some 25 million years ago, feeding on fruits and nuts.

Fossils unearthed in the Northern Territory were collected by a team from Flinders University, which helped identify the baptized marsupials Mukupirna fortidentata, the species of which became extinct long ago.

Paleontologists have also discovered traces of another extinct animal, a possum called Chunya Bundji, which had “nutcracker-like” teeth.

“These curious beasts belonged to a lineage of marsupials that died out long ago, leaving no modern descendants,” described Arthur Crichton of the Laboratory of Paleontology at Flinders University.

“Learning from these animals helps put the wombats and possum populations that still exist today into a larger evolutionary context.”

Fossils have been discovered in numerous fossils over the past decade, allowing researchers to reconstruct the extinct animals in the laboratory.

The wombat-like Mukupirna fortidentata was capable of a powerful bite, likely ate hard fruits and nuts, and weighed up to 50 kilograms according to paleontologists, making it one of the largest marsupials of its time.

The animal is related to Mukupirna nambensis, a species discovered in 2020, which is a much larger relative of most wombats today.

The exact reasons for the disappearance of this ancestor of this wombat are unknown, but their species became extinct at a time marked by climate change, when areas of central Australia covered with ancient forests became increasingly arid, said Gavin Prideaux, director of paleontology. Lab.

“While wombats experienced a major boom in the following period, the mukupirnids appear to have become extinct some time before the end of the late Oligocene, 23 to 25 million years ago,” Ms Prideaux said.

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Little is known about the opossum from the family Ektopondontidae as it is an “extremely rare” find, but it did appear with a lemur-like face with “very strange teeth”, said Mr Crichton.

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