A furious, flesh-eating hypercarnivore has been discovered in Australia. Don’t panic, though – it’s been dead for around 5 million years. Writing in the journal Memoirs of Museum Victoria, the team describe their fossilized beast, which they unearthed in northwestern Queensland.
Weighing in at about 25 kilograms (55 pounds), this portly critter was a distant cousin to Australia’s largest and still-living marsupial, the Tasmanian devil. This ferocious, pungent, and extremely loud creature comes in at less than half the weight of its presumably similar ancient relative.
The cacophonously named Whollydooleya tomnpatrichorum is the first creature to be formally identified from a newly discovered treasure trove of fossils. Most of what researchers know about this hypercarnivore comes from a careful analysis of several of its molar teeth found buried beneath the Sun-scorched earth.
“W. tomnpatrichorum had very powerful teeth capable of killing and slicing up the largest animals of its day,” the study’s lead author Mike Archer, a professor of paleontology at the University of New South Wales, said in a statement.
Although a “hypercarnivore” sounds quite frightening in of itself, this doesn’t mean it has any special hunting abilities or a uniquely violent, savage nature. Like owls, dolphins, snakes, sharks, and lions, this ancient animal had a diet that consisted of more than 70 percent meat, which is all the rather memorable term refers too.
Illustration comparing the ancient creature’s size with two living Australian marsupials. Karen Black/UNSW
The find helps researchers paint a picture of what Australian ecology was like during the Miocene Period, dating from 12 to 5 million years ago. Unlike many other parts of the planet, life in Australia back then remains fairly mysterious mostly due to a lack of well-preserved fossils.
During the Miocene, the continent was switching from a wet, warm, forest-covered environment to a dry, arid one. Forests still existed, but sweeping desertification had begun, and competition for resources was as high as it was harsh.
Wonderfully, this hypercarnivore would have shared its environment with the so-called “Demon Ducks of Doom,” enormous, quick-footed birds that grew around 3 meters (9.8 feet) tall and weighed around 500 kilograms (1,102 pounds). They were 10 times the size of a modern emu, and far more aggressive.
As for who would win in a fight between a Demon Duck and a W. tomnpatrichorum, the jury’s still out, but it certainly would have been a sight to remember.
Sadly, things didn’t end well for this marsupial. It seems the winds of climate change proved to be too quick for this ferocious fellow, and it ultimately bit the dust long before any humans evolve to lay their eyes on it.
“Climate change can be a merciless eliminator of the mightiest of mammals,” notes Archer.