New Species of Extinct Australian Marsupial Lion Named after Sir David Attenborough

Posted on August 23, 2016

Microleo attenboroughi

A newly identified species of extinct Australian marsupial lion has been named after broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough. The tiny marsupial lion prowled the rainforests of northern Australia about 18 million years ago. Fossil remains of the creature were unearthed in the Riversleigh World Heritage Area of remote north-western Queensland.

The species has been named Microleo attenboroughi. Researchers say the small marsupial lion only weighed about 1.3 pounds. It is described based on a fossil specimen of part of its skull and teeth.

Study lead author UNSW's Dr. Anna Gillespie says in the announcement, "Microleo attenboroughi would have been more like the cute, but still feisty kitten of the family. It was not lion-size or even bob-cat-size. Weighing only about 600 grams, it was more like a ringtail possum in size."

UNSW Professor Mike Archer says, "Despite its relatively small size compared with the Pleistocene Thylacoleo carnifex - the last surviving megafaunal marsupial lion - the new species was one of the larger flesh-eaters existing in its ancient community of rainforest creatures at Riversleigh."

A research paper on the new species was published here in Palaeontologia Electronica. The image below shows a size comparison of different ancient marsupial lions.

Sizes of ancient marsupial lions


Artwork: Peter Schouten
Graphic: UNSW