Utilizing computer modeling and virtual 3D reconstruction techniques, scientists have reconstructed the skeleton of the Nimbacinus disksoni, an extinct marsupial carnivore that lived 11.6-16 million years ago. In doing so, they discovered that the creature’s body structure likely allowed it to devour prey much larger than itself.
The research was conducted by Marie Attard of the University of New England and several scientists from the University of South Wales in the UK. After acquiring a preserved skull of the N. dicksoni from the Riversleigh World Heritage Fossil Site in Queensland, Australia, the team simulated the creature’s complete skeletal structure.
This digital recreation was then compared to models of its modern day relatives—large, living marsupial carnivores such as the Tasmanian devil, spotted-tailed quoll, and northern quoll. The recently extinct Tasmanian tiger, also a close relative, was also used as a comparison.
“An Opportunistic Hunter”
From these tests, researchers found that the mechanical properties of the N. dicksoni’s skull were very similar to those of the spotted-tailed quoll, the largest member of the quoll species. The creature was medium sized for a marsupial, with a skull weighing approximately five kilograms, and with a very high bite force in relation to its size. It was also determined that N. dicksoni was predominantly carnivorous and was capable of hunting vertebrate prey that exceeded its own body mass.
“Our findings suggest that Nimbacinus dicksoni was an opportunistic hunter, with potential prey including birds, frogs, lizards, and snakes, as well as a wide range of marsupials,” Attard stated via press release. “In contrast, the iconic Tasmanian tiger was considerably more specialized than large living dasyurids and Nimbacinus, and was likely more restricted in the range of prey it could hunt, making it more vulnerable to extinction.”
Nimbacinus dicksoni is a member of the Thylacinidae, an extinct family of marsupials that once thrived in Australia and New Guinea. Other than Tasmanian tiger specimens, fossil artifacts from this family are rare—skull fragments are the only other known specimens.
The research team’s full findings were published in PLOS ONE on 9 April 2014.
- 11.6-Million-Year Old Skull of Marsupial Carnivore Suggests it Can Eat Something Larger than its Size http://www.hngn.com/articles/28536/20140410/11-6-million-year-old-skull-of-marsupial-carnivore-reveals-it-can-eat-something-bigger-than-its-size.htm
- Extinct carnivorous marsupial may have hunted prey larger than itself http://www.sciencecodex.com/extinct_carnivorous_marsupial_may_have_hunted_prey_larger_than_itself-131510
- Ancient relative of Tasmanian Tiger had powerful jaws http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2014/s3982942.htm