A truly giant wombat shakes the Diprotodon podium

A truly giant wombat shakes the Diprotodon podium

A reconstructed image of Ramsayia next to a modern day wombat. Credit: Eleanor Pease

If you thought Australia was only home to one ancient “giant wombat,” think again.

While the diprotodon — the extinct megafauna species distantly related to wombats but the size of a small car — is commonly (but incorrectly) considered Australia’s “giant wombat,” researchers at Griffith University have shed light on a large species that that can belongs to the modern wombat family.

The full skull of this true fossil giant wombat, found in a Rockhampton cave in Queensland and estimated to be around 80,000 years old, has been identified for the first time by a team led by Associate Professor Julien Louys of the Australian Research Center for Human Evolution described by Griffith.

Associate Professor Louys said the discovery offers unprecedented insight into the biology and appearance of these previously little-known “gentle giants”.

“Australia’s extinct megafauna amazes and fascinates not just Australians, but people around the world,” he said. “Although Diprotodon is one of the most charismatic of the extinct giant mammals, it is commonly referred to as the ‘giant wombat.’ But that’s incorrect, since Diprotodon belongs to a whole different family — equivalent to saying a hippopotamus is just a giant pig.

“However, there were real giant wombats. These have traditionally been little known, but the discovery of the most complete skull of one of these giants, Ramsayia, has given us the opportunity to reconstruct what this creature looked like, where and when it lived, and how the evolution of giant wombats in Australia took place.”

The skull and mandible of the Ramsayia magna fossil was discovered in the early 2000s from the back of the anterior chamber of Lower Johansson’s Cave, Rockhampton, but it was only subsequent excavation and analysis by Associate Professor Louys’ team that confirmed its affiliation with a previously described one , but very little known species.

Extinct giant wombats of the family Vombatidae (commonly defined as twice the size of modern wombats) are rarer than the fossil diprotodontids that are often – and incorrectly – popularly referred to as giant wombats.

Associate Professor Louys said this giant wombat – Ramsayia – had extensive cranial cavities that had not previously been reported for a wombat.

“This indicates that the wombat had a large, rounded skull for the attachment of specific and strong masticatory muscles,” he said. “The giant wombat also possessed a ‘premaxillary spine’, an indication that it had a large, fleshy nose.

“In this article, we show that all true giant wombats first evolved large body sizes and then individually became quite specialized to feed on different types of grasses. We have also dated this species to be around 80,000 years old. This is the first date for this species and is much earlier than the arrival of humans in Australia, although we still do not know exactly when or why this species became extinct,” Associate Professor Louys concluded.

More information:
Skull remains of Ramsayia magna from the late Pleistocene of Australia and the evolution of gigantism in wombats (Marsupialia, Vombatidae), Contributions to paleontology (2022). DOI: 10.1002/spp2.1475

Provided by Griffith University

Citation: True Giant Wombat Gives Diprotodon Podium a Wobble (2022, December 12), retrieved December 12, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-12-true-giant-wombat-diprotodon-podium.html

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