Meet a 25-million-year-old koala you could hug like a cat | ET REALITY


Standing about three feet tall, the modern koala weighs about 25 pounds of claws and teeth, furry ears, and a fluffy white marsupial belly. You could give him a hug; experts suggest that Prefer it if you don’t – but you won’t want to carry it with you all day.

Now imagine that same koala, or one similar to it, weighing a much more manageable (and potentially cuter) six pounds.

Researchers at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, believe that such a creature, called Lumakoala blackae, once made its home in the country’s Northern Territory about 25 million years ago, and probably spent its days eating soft leaves and some another insect.

Their research, based on the discovery of fossilized molars at the Pwerte Marnte Marnte fossil site in outback Australia, was published in the journal Scientific Reports this month.

Marsupials are often mistakenly thought to live only in Australia. While Australia has an impressive array of particularly charismatic examples (Tasmanian devils, kangaroos, koalas, wombats, wallabies and bandicoots, to name a few), these make up about 70 percent of the world’s population, with the other 30 percent coming from of the Americas.

Between 65 and 50 million years ago, Australian marsupials, known as diprotodonts, embarked on a different evolutionary path than those found in other parts of the world. The details of how exactly this happened are unclear: there is, the researchers note, a “gap of approximately 30 million years” in the fossil record that obscures the first half of diprotodon evolution, tens of millions of years ago, when the continents of the world the boundaries were completely different from today.

This unattractive cat-sized koala may be the missing link, Arthur Crichton, a Flinders University PhD student who led the study, said in a statement.

“In the past, it was suggested that the enigmatic Thylacotinga and Chulpasia,” two other ancient marsupial species, “could have been closely related to South American marsupials,” he said.

“However, the discovery of Lumakoala suggests that Thylacotinga and Chulpasia could actually be early relatives of Australian herbivorous marsupials such as koalas, wombats, kangaroos and possums.”

The fossilized remains found at the site near Alice Springs were previously thought to resemble some of the specimens previously found in South America, said Robin Beck, co-author of the study with Mr Crichton.

Instead, Dr Beck said in the statement: “These Tingamarran marsupials are less mysterious than we thought and now appear to be ancient relatives of younger, more familiar groups such as koalas.” Tingamarra is an extinct genus of small mammals from Australia.

He added: “It shows how finding new fossils like Lumakoala, even just a few teeth, can revolutionize our understanding of the history of life on Earth.”

In fact, koalas of all sizes appear to have proliferated in prehistoric Australia, Gavin Prideaux, a paleontologist at Flinders University and co-author of the study, said in the statement.

“Until now, there has been no record of the presence of koalas in the Northern Territory; “There are now three different species from a single fossil site,” Dr. Prideaux said. “While we only have one species of koala today, we now know there were at least seven from the late Oligocene, along with giant koala-like marsupials called ilarids,” he said, referring to a period about 30 million years ago.

The smaller koalas are especially attractive. But their larger relatives, the illariids, could have been a pretty terrifying proposition, weighing up to an estimated 440 pounds, about the size of an upright piano.

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