If you think that animals living in modern Australia are scary you should visit it 60 thousand years ago. Giant kangaroos and car-sized lizards were only a few of the earliest humans’ terrific neighbors.
Before humans began to dominate the earth, giant beasts ruled over all continents. 65 million years ago those were dinosaurs. 60 thousand years ago – super-sized mammals. In Australia, above all the large prehistoric animals, called megafauna, the king was the marsupial lion – 130-kilogram meat-ripping, tree-climbing terror, who lived alongside half-tonne birds, giant, dinosaur-like tortoises, and three-tonne wombat.
According to new studies, humans arrive in Australia at least 45,000 years ago and co-existed with these creatures for around 15,000 years when these weird and fantastic animals began to disappear. None of these beasts have survived today, although the exact reason is still a mystery.
At first, obviously, experts blamed humans. With their advanced hunting techniques and use of fire, they might have wiped out the megafauna within a few generations. However, this idea is still not confirmed.
Now, the possible reason for the disappearance has been clarified.
Over the past decade, an Australian research group has been actively analyzing bones found in archaeological sites.
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“These were the largest terrestrial animals in Australia since the dinosaur era. Their ecological role and impact on the environment are a valuable, as yet unexplained story, ”the researchers write.
Fossil analysis has shown that the die-off, was not the work of newly-arrived humans, but was caused by climate change. And it’s not surprising. The ancient people didn’t stand a chance in the fight for example against marsupial lion – a powerful hunter, and a fierce predator.
Diprotodon – largest marsupial ever
Weighing up to 3 tonnes, Diprotodon, meaning “two forward teeth” in Greek, holds the title of largest living marsupial ever. From snout to tail it’s 4 meters (12 feet) long and it looks like a cross between a bear and wombat.
This giant wombat lived during the Pleistocene Epoch 2.6 million to 25,000 years ago in Australia. He was one of the largest plant-eating mammals, placental or marsupial, of the Cenozoic Era. Despite the large size the young Diprotodon was almost certainly preyed on by the marsupial lion, giant monitor lizard, a plus-sized Australian crocodile, and humans.
Giant short-faced kangaroo
Giant kangaroo, also short-faced, weighed more than 270 kilograms was the largest and most heavily built kangaroo known.
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They had an unusually short face and forward-pointing eyes, with a single large toe on each foot. On these unusual feet, they moved quickly through the open forests and plains, where they sought grass and leaves to eat. They were so big that they couldn’t hop. Largest were standing 2.7 meters tall making them around three times the size of the largest kangaroos today. These animals lived alongside modern species of kangaroos but specialized on a diet of leaves from trees and shrubs.
Marsupial lion – the deadliest animal
The deadliest mammal discovered in Australia’s megafauna was the predator- marsupial lion. Some of these “marsupial lions” were the largest mammalian predators in Australia of that time approaching the weight of a small lion. The estimated average weight for the species ranges from 101 to 130 kg and they had the strongest bite of any mammal species, living or extinct. Marsupial lion pray included giant kangaroos and diprotodon
While considered a powerful hunter, and a fierce predator, it has been theorized that due to its physiology Thylacoleo was, in fact, a slow runner, limiting its ability to chase prey. That fits with the stripes: camouflage of the kind one would need for stalking and hiding in a largely forested habitat rather than chasing across open spaces.
Megalania – ancient great roamer
Megalania, which means “ancient great roamer” was the largest terrestrial lizard the world has ever known and is relative to the Komodo dragon. The lizard’s size was at least 5.5 m (18 ft) and 575 kg (1,268 lb). Judging from its size, it would have fed mostly upon medium- to large-sized animals, including any of the giant marsupials such as Diprotodon, along with other reptiles and small mammals, as well as birds and their eggs and chicks.
Meiolania – small roamer
When first described from fossil skulls, Meiolania was first thought to have been a lizard, hence the name which means ‘small roamer’. After some time, scientists learned that Meiolania was actually a terrestrial turtle and one of if not the largest terrestrial turtle to live.
The largest specimens of Meiolania are estimated to be 2.50 m long and are the biggest known land-living turtle. Aside from the large spikes on the head, Meiolania also had a spiked tail similar to some tails of the mammalian glyptodonts, and it’s plausible that these may have been defensive features for protecting the head and tail extremities from predators. The spikes also prevented the head from sliding under the shell.
The disappearance of much of the Pleistocene megafauna is often attributed to the arrival of humans and in the case of Meiolania there is actually strong evidence to support this. In Vanuatu the remains of the species Meiolania damelipi have been found in the rubbish dumps of early human settlements.
Dromornis – thunderbird
Dromornis is also often referred to by the English translation of its Greek name ‘Thunderbird’, it was 3 m (9.8 feet) tall and weighed up to 650 kg. Although Dromornis may appear to be a much larger and more dangerous version of an ostrich, the study of the fossils has revealed that the huge Dromornis was more closely related to geese.
They were large, flightless birds with stubby wings, massive hind legs, and hoof-like toes. They lacked a keeled sternum (breastbone), a specialization related to the reduction of flight muscles.
There is a great deal of debate over the diet of dromornithids. Many paleontologists are convinced they were herbivores (eating mainly tough-skinned fruits and seed pods), but others think at least some dromornithids may have eaten meat, based on the shape and size of their skulls and beaks.