Palaeontologists unearth rare 15-million-year-old bilby

March 17, 2014
Palaeontologists unearth rare 15–million–year–old bilby
Bilby (image source: Wikipedia). Inset picture: Fossil teeth of the fossil bilby, Liyamayi dayi. Credit: Kenny Travouillon

(Phys.org) —An ancient fossil of the bilby, Australia's answer to the Easter rabbit, has been discovered at the Riversleigh World Heritage site in north west Queensland.

The 15-million-year-old of the long-eared marsupial, found by palaeontologists from The University of Queensland and the University of New South Wales, confirms that bilbies evolved millions of years earlier than was previously known.

Lead researcher Dr Kenny Travouillon, from UQ's School of Earth Sciences, said the finding would increase understanding of the fossil record and the evolution of Australian marsupials.

"More generally, by understanding how Australia's vertebrates and ecosystems have evolved through time with the changing climate, we can better predict their responses to future climate change and better protect the more endangered lineages against extinction," Dr Travouillon said.

DNA studies on related had predicted that the bilby had evolved about 25 million years ago, when it separated from its closest relative, the bandicoot.

Until now, the oldest fossil of the endangered bilby was only about five million years old.

"The species that we have discovered is about 15 million years old, which is more in accordance with the DNA data and will provide insight on how bilbies have evolved over time and adapted to changes in the Australian environment," Dr Travouillon said.The species has been named Liyamayi dayi, which is derived from the Aboriginal Waanyi people's language and means 'day's round tooth'.

The "day" refers to UQ alumnus and geologist Dr Robert Day, who funded Dr Travouillon's postdoctoral fellowship at the School of Earth Sciences.

Riversleigh is famous for previous discoveries of extinct Australian animal fossils, such as carnivorous kangaroos, the predecessors of Tasmanian tigers, and tree-climbing crocodiles. 

Dr Travouillon and his team, also recovered fossils of a 15-million-year-old species related to modern bandicoots from the same area.

"Just like the bilbies, the previously oldest known ancestor of the modern bandicoots was also about five million years old, and hence this finding also pushes back their age," Dr Travouillon said.

As the new bandicoot species was found in an unusual time period—almost crashing in a time period where it was least expected—the team has named it 'Crash bandicoot', after a video game character.

The fossils were discovered several years ago, and the results of subsequent research has now been published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Explore further: Gentle bilby had 'killer' ancestor

More information: "Earliest modern bandicoot and bilby (Marsupialia, Peramelidae and Thylacomyidae) from the Miocene of the Riversleigh World Heritage Area, northwestern Queensland, Australia." K. J. Travouillon, S. J. Hand, M. Archer, K. H. Black. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology , Vol. 34, Iss. 2, 2014. DOI: 10.1080/02724634.2013.799071

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.

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.

Fossil of largest known platypus discovered in Australia

November 4, 2013

No living mammal is more peculiar than the platypus. It has a broad, duck-like bill, thick, otter-like fur, and webbed, beaver-like feet. The platypus lays eggs rather than gives birth to live young, its snout is covered ...

Recommended for you

Amateur paleontologist finds rare fossil of fish in Arizona

September 3, 2015

Growing up, Stephanie Leco often would dig in her backyard and imagine finding fossils of a tyrannosaurus rex. She was fascinated with the idea of holding something in her hand that was millions of years old and would give ...

X-rays reveal fossil secrets

September 3, 2015

A sophisticated imaging technique has allowed scientists to virtually peer inside a 10-million-year-old sea urchin, uncovering a treasure trove of hidden fossils.

Early human diet explains our eating habits

August 31, 2015

Much attention is being given to what people ate in the distant past as a guide to what we should eat today. Advocates of the claimed palaeodiet recommend that we should avoid carbohydrates and load our plates with red meat ...

0 comments

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.