Extinct Kitten-Sized Marsupial Lion Named After David Attenborough

Artis'ts impression of Microleo Attenboroughi in its natural habitat. Peter Schouten

An extinct marsupial lion has been added to the long list of species named in honor of Sir David Attenborough. The newly-discovered Microleo attenboroughi weighed just 600 grams (1.5 pounds) but bears a distinct family resemblance to some fearsome beasts of more recent times.

Far back in an era when Australia was much wetter than it is today, marsupial lions filled many of the niches for carnivorous beasts on the continent. Although not related to African lions, the name reflects the strong resemblance the last survivor, Thylacoleo carnifex, bore to the big cats.

"Microleo attenboroughi would have been more like the cute, but still feisty, kitten of the family," said Dr Anna Gillespie of the University of New South Wales in a statement. “It's likely that Microleo scampered amongst the tree-tops, gobbling insects as well as small vertebrates such as lizards and birds while simultaneously trying to avoid becoming a prey item for its larger relatives." Gillespie is first author of the paper in Palaeontologia Electronica describing Microleo attenboroughi

Size comparison between Microleo attenboroughi and the three other genera of marsupial lions,Priscileo, Wakaleo and Thylacoleo. UNSW

Other members of the family at the time include a species the size of a domestic cat and one more like a typical dog. Besides their own relatives, the marsupial lions competed with species more closely related to the recently extinct Thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, and other strange predators

The tooth from Microleo attenboroughi compared with the tooth row of its Pleistocene relative, the lion-sized Thylacoleo carnifex. UNSW

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