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Strange Ancient Australian Marsupial Loved Eating Snails, Scientists Reveal

May 30, 2016 12:27 PM EDT
SugarGlider CincinnatiZoo
Sugar Glider Petaurus breviceps, a kind of marsupial, at the Cincinnati Zoo
(Photo : Ltshears/Wikimedia Commons)

Researchers found the remains an ancient marsupial that lived 15 million years ago at the Riversleigh World Heritage Fossil Site in North Western Queensland, Australia. However, what made this particular marsupial rare is its appetite for escargot or snails.

The study published in the journal Scientific Reports details how the ancient marsupial called Malleodectes mirabilis is unique due to its craving for whole snails. This marsupial has huge, hammer-like premolar teeth that enables them to consume and crush the whole escargot easily.

Professor Mike Archer from UNSW said as quoted by EurekaAlert, "Malleodectes mirabilis was a bizarre mammal, as strange in its own way as a koala or kangaroo."

Archer and his team have been studying the marsupial for years now, but the discovery about its apetite was only recently known after unearthing a part of a young marsupial's skull.

Using micro-computed tomography, the skull featured baby teeth as well as growing adult teeth which enabled the researchers to identify its relation to other Australian marsupials. The young marsupial teeth were the key to identify the creature's breed, age, as well as diet, the Washington Post reports.

"Although it is very different from the others, it appears to have been related to the dasyures - marsupial carnivores such as Tasmanian Devils and the extinct Tasmanian Tigers that are unique to Australia and New Guinea," Archer said.

The researchers also revealed that these ancient snail-eating creature went extinct due to intense climate change in Australia, changing the country's rain forests into dry grasslands.

This newly discovered fossil adds to the growing list of ancient animal remains found in the Riversleigh World Heritage, which is home to fossil remains of ancient mammals, birds and reptiles. Among the strange ancient animals discovered in the area is the Thingodonta, Fangaroo, Drop crocs and Dromornis.

The UNSW paleological team will carry out its 40th expedition in Riversleigh and is expecting more bizaare discoveries of animals that once existed in Australia's forests.

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