Scientists working in Australia have discovered a giant marsupial that roamed prehistoric Australian 25 billion years ago. The giant marsupial is so different from other wombats that scientists had to create a new family to accommodate it. The wombat-like marsupial was named Mukupirna nambensis. Scientists say that it was placed in a whole new family of marsupials because it’s so different from all other previously known extinct animals of the type.
Mukupirna means “big bones” in the Dieri and Malyangapa Aboriginal language. The partial skull and most of the skeleton was discovered in 1973 and is said to belong to a creature more than four times the size of any living wombat today. When alive, the animal weighed about 150 kg.
Because it’s significantly different from any known wombat or other marsupials, it was placed in its own unique family called Mukupirnidae. The scientist who co-authored a paper on the creature, Mike Archer, was part of the original international team of paleontologists that found the skeleton in 1973. It was found in the clay floor of Lake Pinpa, which is a remote dry salt lake east of the Flinders Ranges in South Australia.
He says that the original discovery of the creature was a lucky break after a change in local conditions exposed the 25 million-year-old fossil deposit on the floor of the dry Salt Lake. Archer said that most years, the surface of the dry Lake is covered by sands blown or washed in from the surrounding hills. He says that on the surface and just below it, they found skulls, teeth, bones, and in some cases, articulated skeletons of many new and exotic kinds of mammals.
He also said that in the area were extinct lungfish teeth, skeletons of bony fish, and the bones of many water birds, including flamingos and ducks. The Mukupirna is said to be similar in size to the living black bear. The team says that it was at least three times larger than modern wombats and likely lived in an open forest environment without grasses and developed teeth that allowed it to feed on sedges, roots, and tubers dug up with its powerful front legs.