Ancient marsupial representative explained the transition wombats digging

Australian paleontologists have described a new species of fossil marsupials, close to the ancestors of modern wombats, — Mukupirna nambensis. Ancient beast, weighing about 150 pounds, lived in South Australia 25 million years ago. As noted by the authors of the opening article for the journal Scientific Reports, skeleton structure M. nambensis indicates that this species was able to dig up the soil in search of edible plants. Perhaps it looked like the first stages of the adaptation of wombats to a burrowing existence.

The wombats — one of the most recognizable animals of Australia, but until now lived only three species of these marsupials (Vombatus ursinus, to be, Lasiorhinus latifrons and L. krefftii) and their nearest relatives are koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus). However, a few tens of thousands of years ago, the suborder Vombatiformes was much more diverse: among its members was a giant herbivore diprotodon (Diprotodon), and fearsome predators — marsupial lions (Thylacoleo). Unfortunately, in the Pleistocene they became extinct, either human-induced or due to climate change.

Still in the early stages of the evolution of modern wombats remained poorly understood. For example, it was unclear when these animals began to acquire adaptation to digging. To shed light on this question managed a team of paleontologists led by Robin Beck (Robin M. D. Beck) from the University of New South Wales.

Experts have studied the remains undescribed (the skull and the postcranial part of the skeleton) were discovered in 1973 at the bottom of a dried up salt lake in South Australia, and came to the conclusion that they belonged to giant relatives of the wombats. The age of the finds is estimated at 25-26 million years (Oligocene epoch). The weight of an ancient beast reached approximately 150 pounds, that is five times larger than its living relatives.

Fossil received the Latin name Mukupirna nambensis. The generic name is derived from the language of the Australian aborigines of diary and translates as “big bones”, and the species indicates that the find was made in a geological formation Namba.

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