Ancient marsupial 'micro lion' discovered in Australia

August 26, 2016, 12:08 p.m.
Microleo attenboroughi
Photo: Peter Schouten/UNSW Australia

Prowling through the trees of Australia some 18 million years ago was a small marsupial carnivore that weighed only a little over one pound yet was a fearsome predator to lizards, birds and insects.

Paleontologists at the University of New South Wales in Australia discovered bits of skull and some teeth from this now extinct tree-dwelling carnivore, and named it Microleo attenboroughi after Sir David Attenborough. It is the ninth, and smallest, marsupial lion species discovered in the fossil record.

According to Christian Science Monitor:

Marsupial lions, while not true big cats, were the top predators of their day. Most members, such as the leopard-sized Thylacoleo carnifex, would have dwarfed their little cousin. The Australian Museum has described T. carnifex's bite as "the most powerful bite of any mammalian predator, living or extinct." Others, such as Priscileo pitikantensis, were closer in size to modern house cats.

"It might have been cute but researchers say that it had sharp teeth, like knives, which could rip up smaller animals to eat," writes the BBC.