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Remains of giant wombat, the size of a rhinoceros, discovered in Australia

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 21st, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Called a "paleontologists' goldmine," scientists have unearthed the biggest of the prehistoric "giant wombat" skeletons. Discovered in Queensland, Australia, the skeletons of 50 diprotodons, all the size of a rhinoceros, is being heralded as "the largest marsupial that ever lived" by scientists. It's hoped that the latest find will reveal clues to the reasons for the species' extinction.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The fossils are believed to be between 100,000 and 200,000 years old. Scientists say that the plant-eating giants had backward-facing pouches big enough to carry an adult human.

"When we did the initial survey I was just completely blown away by the concentrations of these fragments,"
Lead scientist Scott Hocknull, from the Queensland Museum in Brisbane says.

"It's a paleontologists' goldmine where we can really see what these mega-fauna were doing, how they actually behaved, what their ecology was.

"With so many fossils it gives us a unique opportunity to see these animals in their environment, basically, so we can reconstruct it."

First appearing about 1.6 million years ago, these "mega-wombats" appeared to have been trapped in boggy conditions while seeking refuge from drought, Hocknull added.

The pigeon-toed animals were widespread across Australia about 50,000 years ago, when the fist indigenous people are believed to have lived. It's not known how or why they became extinct, but it could have been due to hunting by humans or a changing climate.

The remote desert site contains one huge specimen, nicknamed Kenny, which is one of the best preserved and biggest examples ever discovered. Its jawbone alone is 28 inched long.

The site is also home to an array of other prehistoric species, including the teeth of a 20 foot lizard called megalania. The animal's teeth and bony back-plates call to mind an enormous pre-historic crocodile.

"We're almost certain that most of these carcasses of diprotodon have been torn apart by both the crocodiles and the lizards, because we've found shed teeth within their skeletons from both animals," Hocknull says.

A relative of the modern-day wombat, the diprotodon inhabited forests, open woodland and scrub. It was just one of several "mega fauna" to roam prehistoric Australia.

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