Tiny ancient bandicoot shines light on future

May 20, 2013
Tiny ancient bandicoot shines light on future
The 20 million-year-old skull of the extinct Bulungu palara (bottom) is much smaller than the skulls of the modern bandicoots, such as the Southern Brown Bandicoot (above).

(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.

Paleontologists from The University of Queensland (UQ) and University of New South Wales identified the skull as belonging to Bulungu palara.

The skull was found a decade ago by a team of paleontologists from UNSW lead by Professor Michael Archer.

UQ researcher Dr Kenny Travouillon said this fossil shows how bandicoots have evolved over time to adapt to large changes in the Australian environment.

"We can see from the teeth that the diet of these animals changed from carnivorous to omnivorous and that the body size was much smaller than modern bandicoots," says Dr Travouillon.

Dr Travouillon said the smallest of today's bandicoots weigh as little as 200 grams and Bulungu palara weighed just 50-150 grams.

"It was closer in size to today's native Australian marsupial mice of the Antechinus ," Dr Travouillon said.

The well-preserved skull of Bulungu palara joins a list of extinct Australian found at the Riversleigh site, which includes carnivorous kangaroos, the predecessors of Tasmanian Tigers, and tree-climbing .

Dr Travouillon said the Bulungu palara skull was among the oldest bandicoot fossils identified, along with two related species from 25 million-year-old-sediments of the Etadunna Formation in central Australia.

"This finding (Bulungu palara's ) provides insight into the future of modern ," he said.

"As we find more fossils we can create a more complete record and see these animals changing over time."

This information can be used to plan the conservation of modern species.

The finding was published in the Journal of Systematic Paleontology, yesterday and available at www.tandfonline.com/toc/tjsp20/current .

Riversleigh has provided thousands of well-preserved fossil specimens from between 10 and 25 million-years-ago.

Explore further: Gentle bilby had 'killer' ancestor

Related Stories

Gentle bilby had 'killer' ancestor

September 1, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- The gentle rabbit-like bilby - Australia's stand-in for the Easter bunny - had an ancient relative that was a far more fearsome little beast, a new study has found.

Rare rhino fossil preserved by prehistoric volcanic eruption

November 21, 2012

Less than 2% of the earth's fossils are preserved in volcanic rock, but researchers have identified a new one: the skull of a rhino that perished in a volcanic eruption 9.2 million years ago. The find is described in a paper ...

Local dig uncovers new species of ancient fish

March 7, 2013

(Phys.org) —Researchers from The Australian National University (ANU) working on the New South Wales south coast have discovered a new species of ancient fish, after unearthing the largest fossilised lobe-finned fish skull ...

Scientists reveal new species of dog-sized dinosaur

May 7, 2013

Scientists have named a new species of bone-headed dinosaur (pachycephalosaur) from Alberta, Canada. Acrotholus audeti (Ack-RHO-tho-LUS) was identified from both recently discovered and historically collected fossils. Approximately ...

Four dinosaur species identified

May 8, 2013

Just when dinosaur researchers thought they had a thorough knowledge of ankylosaurs, a family of squat, armour plated, plant eaters, along comes University of Alberta graduate student, Victoria Arbour.

Recommended for you

Biologists trace how human innovation impacts tool evolution

November 24, 2015

Many animals exhibit learned behaviors, but humans are unique in their capacity to build on existing knowledge to make new innovations. Understanding the patterns of how new generations of tools emerged in prehistoric societies, ...

How experienced buyers can mitigate economic bubbles

November 19, 2015

(Phys.org)—Over the last decade, many people got a tough primer on the effects of economic bubbles, as the bursting of the 2007-2008 housing bubble sent shockwaves through most of the major world economies. But property ...

First Londoners were multi-ethnic mix: museum

November 23, 2015

A DNA analysis of four ancient Roman skeletons found in London shows the first inhabitants of the city were a multi-ethnic mix similar to contemporary Londoners, the Museum of London said on Monday.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.