The Diprotodon optatum, the largest marsupial that ever lived, is a migratory species, a discovery that might lead to significant changes in what we think about ancient and modern animal migration.
Australia was once home to giant prehistoric megafauna, and the Diprotodon was the "king" of these animals. A fossil from one of these creatures that lived hundreds of thousands of years ago has now provided a glimpse of what it was like during the ancient times.
The Diprotodon Migrated Across Australia
The Diprotodon, which weighed 3 tons, looked like a wombat, and is the ancestor of the koala, has been discovered to be the first and only known marsupial to have an annual migration cycle.
Gilbert Price of the University of Queensland was able to make the discovery by studying a fossilized jaw of one of the ancient creatures. The jaw, which was excavated a few years ago from Australia's Darling Downs region, allowed Price to track the eating habits of the massive herbivore.
Price analyzed the genetic makeup of the Diprotodon's tooth, which dates back to about 280,000 years to 300,000 years ago, and found that the animal it belonged to consumed plants found in different locations.
Price explained that the tooth of the Diprotodon continues to grow, and so it records the different food it eats as it ages. With the tooth fossil revealing different geological signatures, it implies that the Diprotodon was migrating during the time it walked the Earth.
"This one single tooth tells us our understanding of migration in marsupials needs to be completely rewritten," Price said.
The analysis of the tooth indicated that the Diprotodon migrated across distances of up to 200 kilometers (124 miles) per year, challenging current knowledge that marsupials do not go on two-way migration cycles. It also raises question on what other ancient species were also migratory during their time.
The findings of the research indicated that the primary reason behind the migration of the Diprotodon was to find better source of food as seasons changed. Further research with additional fossil records, however, will provide a conclusive claim that the Diprotodon was a migratory animal.
Ancient Creatures In The News
There have been several interesting creatures in the news lately, including the Beelzebufo ampinga, which was an ancient frog that had jaws strong enough to be able to eat small dinosaurs and crocodiles, and a new dinosaur species that apparently used camouflage.