15 Million years old ‘snail-munching’ marsupial found in Australia

Researchers from the University of New South Wales have found the fossils of a peculiar mammal. The species, known as, Malleodectes mirabilis, is a unique Australian carnivorous marsupial, believed to have existed around 15 million years ago.

Best described by its powerful bite, researchers have established that the mammal was a snail munching machine with hammer-like premolars, primarily used for cracking snail shells.

Kindred teeth have been found before as well, but a complete well-preserved fossil has been found for the first time.

The fossils were located in a limestone cave deposit at Riversleigh World Heritage site in North-western Queensland.

Even though the cave is in shambles, remains from the skull of this juvenile malleodectid were found intact amongst all the bones littering the area.

Suzanne Hand, Professor at the University of South Wales, stated that “The Juvenile Malleodectid could have been clinging to the back of its mother while she was hunting for snails in the rocks around the cave’s entrance, and may have fallen in and then unable to climb back out”.

Australia’s isolation from the world for over 35 million years has been instrumental in preserving these ancient fossils. Therefore, the intact skull contains both baby teeth and adult teeth ready to come out.

Even though it is almost impossible to establish the exact cause of the extinction, research indicates climate change as the principal reason for the same. Researchers believe that transformation of rain forests into grasslands was one of the primary reasons.

Mike Archer, a professor at the University of South Wales, informed about the concerns regarding climate change and stated that; “The clime-change driven transformation in Australia’s wildlife over the last 15 million years ago is a timely reminder of the probable outcome of the next cycle of climate change, one we appear to have triggered ourselves”.