News / Science & Technology

Extinct Australian Predator Was Fierce, but No Tasmanian Devil

FILE - A Tasmanian Devil eats the head of a small chicken at its new enclosure at Wild Life Zoo in central Sydney, Australia.
FILE - A Tasmanian Devil eats the head of a small chicken at its new enclosure at Wild Life Zoo in central Sydney, Australia.
A fox-sized marsupial predator that roamed Australia from about 23 to 12 million years ago had plenty of bite to go along with its bark. But while it was certainly fierce, it was no Tasmanian devil, Australia's famously ferocious bantamweight brute.

Those were the findings reported on Wednesday by scientists who essentially brought the extinct mammal back to life in the virtual world to study its bite force and other qualities in comparison to other marsupial meat-eaters.

They used 3D computer software to reconstruct its skull - patterned after a nicely preserved fossil - and performed  biomechanical analysis to see whether it was a champion chomper.

The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, assessed the biting and killing capabilities of a marsupial called Nimbacinus dicksoni that lived in northern Australia during the Miocene Epoch, a span of time populated by a wondrous array of mammals and other animals.

Nimbacinus dicksoni proved to be quite formidable and was probably able to hunt prey bigger than itself, the study found.

“It has the teeth of a true marsupial carnivore, with well-developed vertical slicing blades for cutting through meat and sinew,” said Stephen Wroe, a zoologist and paleontologist at Australia's University of New England and one of the researchers.

“It likely preyed upon small to medium-sized birds, frogs, lizards and snakes, as well as a wide range of marsupials.”

But it fell short of the Tasmanian devil's chomping power.

“It was certainly less powerful and less able to handle heavy loadings or forces than the Tasmanian devil. While it could probably have processed smaller bones, it did not have the capacity to crush and crack bone that the devil has - but then few creatures do,” Wroe said.

While placental mammals - rodents, bats, cats, dogs, cows,  whales and many more, including people - dominated most of the world, Australia was dominated by marsupial mammals, which give birth to premature babies and then nourish them inside a pouch.

Tasmanian tiger

Australia's marsupials include kangaroos, wallabies, wombats and koalas, but also some fierce meat-eaters like the Tasmanian devil and spotted-tailed quoll. The island continent once was home to many more carnivorous marsupials, including the wolf-sized Tasmanian tiger that went extinct in 1936.

Nimbacinus dicksoni, also called Dickson's thylacine, was about the size of a small fox or very big domestic cat, weighed about 11 pounds (5 kg) and had a face like a cross between a cat and an opossum. It was a smaller relative of the Tasmanian tiger, which of course was not a cat, despite its name.

The researchers compared the bite force of the two species to each other and to existing marsupial predators including the Tasmanian devil, spotted-tailed quoll and northern quoll.

The fossilized skull of Nimbacinus dicksoni was very well preserved but some parts still were damaged or missing. The researchers digitally replaced those parts using 3D computer software, then made a 3D model to predict mechanical performance and how the skull might do when biting and killing prey.

Nimbacinus dicksoni most closely matched the biting power of the spotted-tailed quoll, which has a pink nose and brown fur covered in white spots, even though the two species are not closely related, the researchers found.

“Quolls are cute, but don't be deceived. They are fearless and ferocious predators,” Wroe said.

The simulations suggested the Tasmanian tiger was poorly suited to capture and kill large prey despite being the largest of the marsupial predators to live into recent times.

Compared to the Tasmanian tiger, Nimbacinus dicksoni possessed a shorter, wider snout and its distinctive cheek teeth, used for cutting and shearing meat, were not as specialized, according to zoologist Marie Attard of the University of New England, another of the researchers.

The thylacinids, the group that includes Nimbacinus dicksoni and the Tasmanian tiger, “are an excellent example of an ecologically diverse family that has now become extinct, and provides an important reminder of how easily large carnivores such as the Tasmanian tiger can be wiped out if we don't fight to save them,” Attard said.

You May Like

Video In US, Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy

Holiday marks date Columbus discovered Americas, but some are offended by legacy because he enslaved many natives he encountered More

Video Through Sports, Austria Tries to Give Migrants Traction

With 85,000 people expected to claim asylum in Austria this year, its government has made integration through joint physical activities a key objective More

Video Kickboxing Champion Shares Sport With Young Migrants

Pouring into Europe by hundreds of thousands, some migrants, especially youngsters, are finding sports a way to integrate into new host countries More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Garry from: Melbourne
April 10, 2014 9:55 PM
I find nature very challenging ,because everytime I read articles about nature ,or watch nature stories on documentaries, they are always based on evolution .
Personaly i'm a creationist, and one of my friends is a scientist who believe in evolution. So we often have debates between the religion of creation, and the religion of evolution. My argument is that creation is based on miracles that can only be achieved by an all-mighty intelegent designer. While evolution is based on magic, invented by human imaginations,and as we all know that magic is only illisions, and not reality.
In one of our debates he said to me that i ask far too many hard questions, that are very hard to answear, but as a scientist he must believe in evolution.
But what if creation is real, and evolution is not. Then what is science teaching ?

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs