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.
Reuters
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 One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Troops Depart

Afghans are grappling with how exodus will affect country's fragile economy More

Video Scientists Say We Need Softer Robots

Today’s robots are mostly hard, rigid machines, with sharp edges and forceful movements, but researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say they should be softer and therefore safer More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs