Meet the giant wombat relative that scratched out a living in Australia 25 million years ago

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2020-06-28 18:58:49

Wombats are among the most peculiar of animals. They look like a massively overgrown guinea pig with a boofy head, a waddling gait, squared-off butt, backwards-facing pouch and ever-growing molars.

Indeed, wombats are oddballs and don’t look much like their nearest living relatives, the koala. But koalas and wombats (collectively known as “vombatiformes”) are the last survivors of a once far more diverse group of marsupials whose fossil history stretches back for at least 25 million years.

Working out how this diverse group fizzled out to just wombats and koalas has taken centuries of extraordinary discoveries in the fossil record. We are announcing one of these today in our research published in Scientific Reports.

Mukupirna nambensis is one of the oldest discovered Australian marsupials. Its unveiling has deepened our understanding of the relationships and evolutionary history of one of the strangest groups that once ruled this continent.

In 1973 at Lake Pinpa – a small dry salt lake in South Australia – a multi-institutional expedition led by palaeontologist Dick Tedford from the American Museum of Natural History discovered a host of extinct animals.

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