20 million year-old dwarf koala named after Dick Smith

May 29, 2013
20 million year-old koala named after Dick Smith
Skull of extinct koala, Litokoala dicksmithi, beside the larger skull of a modern koala

(Phys.org) —A newly discovered extinct species of koala that lived in the rainforest canopies of northern Australia about 20 million years ago has been named after a famous Australian – Dick Smith.

The small, ancient koala was given the species name Litokoala dicksmithi, in honour of the aviator, adventurer and philanthropist.

UNSW , Dr Karen Black, who led the research, said: "We chose the name to thank Mr Smith for his long-term financial support of Australian science, in particular, of fossil research at the Riversleigh World Heritage Area in north western Queensland."

Dr Black, along with Dr Julien Louys and Dr Gilbert Price from the University of Queensland, describe the new species in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.

The discovery brings the number of known extinct koala species to 18. Today, one species of koala is alive.

An exceptionally well-preserved of the new was unearthed, whereas only teeth or jaws of most other extinct koala species have been found.

"The discovery of Litokoala dicksmithi is particularly significant because it is one of only two fossil koala species that are known from material preserving the facial region including the snout," Dr Black said.

"The other species, called Nimiokoala greystanesi, which was also discovered at Riversleigh, had a skull that was very possum-like in appearance.

"Litokoala dicksmithi, however, appears to have been much more closely related to the modern koala with numerous similarities in the skull suggesting a more koala-like, rather than possum-like, face."

Litokoala dicksmithi was only about a third of the size of living , weighing in at approximately three to four kilograms.

"An interesting feature of the Litokoala skull is the extremely large eye sockets which suggest the intriguing possibility that these koalas were nocturnal with greater visual acuity than the living koala," Dr Black said.

"Combined with its small body size, this suggests that Litokoala dicksmithi was a more active, agile tree climber than its sleepy, relatively sedentary, cousin that we know."

Unlike today's eucalypt-munching koala species, Litokoala dicksmithi fed on the rainforest plants that covered much of 20 million years ago and may also have eaten some fruit.

The onset of dryer conditions in Australia about 15 million years ago led to the contraction of rainforest habitats and the apparent extinction of many koala species including Litokoala dicksmithi.

This is the second Litokoala species named from the Riversleigh World Heritage Area. The first species was named Litokoala garyjohnstoni in 2007, to honour philanthropist, Gary Johnston, CEO of Jaycar Ltd, who donated $1 million to UNSW to create Australia's first Chair of Water Management. The name was chosen by Dr Louys, Dr Black, Professor Michael Archer, Associate Professor Sue Hand and Mr Henk Godthelp.

Explore further: Modern humans may have migrated into Austria 43,500 years ago

More information: www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/1… 14772019.2013.768304

Related Stories

Loud and lazy but didn't chew gum: Ancient koalas

Dec 19, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Skull fragments of prehistoric koalas from the Riversleigh rainforests of millions of year ago suggest they shared the modern koala's "lazy" lifestyle and ability to produce loud "bellowing" ...

Tiny ancient bandicoot shines light on future

May 20, 2013

(Phys.org) —A 20 million-year-old fossil skull identified as a 'pocket-sized' ancestor of the bandicoot will give insights into the future of Australia's modern endangered animals.

Hanging in there: Koalas have low genetic diversity

Oct 23, 2012

A species relies on genetic diversity to survive and low diversity usually indicates that there has been inbreeding due to a decrease in population size. By looking at historic mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from ...

Light shed on koala evolution

Feb 02, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- The world at large knows koalas as cute, cuddly, lovable iconic animals. The evolutionary biologist, on the other hand, will know them as extremely specialized, endangered animals, the evolutionary ...

Research finds koalas are no dwarves

Dec 11, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- University of Queensland research has found one of Australia's iconic animals is not a shadow of its former self.

World-first research will save koalas

Apr 09, 2013

The "holy grail" for understanding how and why koalas respond to infectious diseases has been uncovered in an Australian-led, world-first genome mapping project.

Recommended for you

New hadrosaur noses into spotlight

Sep 19, 2014

Call it the Jimmy Durante of dinosaurs – a newly discovered hadrosaur with a truly distinctive nasal profile. The new dinosaur, named Rhinorex condrupus by paleontologists from North Carolina State Univer ...

Militants threaten ancient sites in Iraq, Syria

Sep 19, 2014

For more than 5,000 years, numerous civilizations have left their mark on upper Mesopotamia—from Assyrians and Akkadians to Babylonians and Romans. Their ancient, buried cities, palaces and temples packed ...

User comments : 0