Giant Toothed Platypus Once Roamed Australia

Posted on November 4, 2013

Obdurodon tharalkooschild was an ancient giant toothed platypus species


Scientists have discovered the fossil of a large toothed platypus species that lived 5 to 15 million years ago. The fossil was discovered in the Riversleigh World Heritage Area of Queensland. Unlike the modern platypus, the giant species, Obdurodon tharalkooschild, had functional teeth that could have be used to kill and consume other animals. The giant platypus is pictured tenderizing a short-necked tortoise in the artwork above by Peter Schouten.

The ancient platypus is estimated to have been about one meter (over three feet) long and at least twice the size of the modern platypus. It is the largest platypus ever discovered.

The fossil was discovered by Rebecca Pian, a PhD candidate at Columbia University and former UNSW Honours student, and Professor Mike Archer and Associate Professor Suzanne Hand, of the UNSW School of Biological Earth and Environmental Sciences. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the extinct platypus species was identified from one fossilized tooth.

PhD candidate Rebecca Pian, lead author of the study, says in a statement, "Monotremes (platypuses and echidnas) are the last remnant of an ancient radiation of mammals unique to the southern continents. A new platypus species, even one that is highly incomplete, is a very important aid in developing understanding about these fascinating mammals."

UNSW's Professor Archer says, "Discovery of this new species was a shock to us because prior to this, the fossil record suggested that the evolutionary tree of platypuses was a relatively linear one. Now we realize that there were unanticipated side branches on this tree, some of which became gigantic."

The research paper was published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Image: Reconstruction / Illustration by Peter Schouten