New research has given a graphic illustration of Australia during the Ice Age. Computer simulations by paleontologists at the University of New South Wales suggest a marsupial lion that roamed the continent had teeth like "bolt cutters," which gave it an edge over its competitors. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.
The scientists say Australia's extinct marsupial lion was a skilled and efficient killer - far more so than its modern-day cousins.
Australian paleontologists say a quick kill was a big advantage to the beasts. The longer their prey was alive, the more likely the lions would be hurt, or that the struggle would attract other predators.
Paleontologist Stephen Wroe of the University of Sydney says the Ice Age lion relied on a fearsome set of teeth that could inflict massive damage quickly.
"The marsupial lion actually sliced, sliced and diced its prey, so it had these huge cheek teeth that were, to all intents and purposes, a big set of bolt cutters, and our findings suggest that it actually used these to scissor through thick hide, probably in the throat region, in order to cut into the windpipe and major arteries," he said.
Modern mammalian carnivores usually asphyxiate their prey. An African lion, for example, often kills a large buffalo by grabbing it around the throat.
Its Ice Age predecessor, which has been extinct for more than 40,000 years, is calculated to have had a far savage bite than the modern-day equivalent. There was a catch, however, to the animal's ability to catch and kill big prey.
Unlike African lions, the large marsupial lion was not good at catching small animals, which may have contributed to its extinction.
The lions are classified as marsupials because, like modern-day kangaroos, they reared their young in a pouch.