The discovery of prehistoric claw marks inside a Western Australian cave suggests an extinct and anatomically bizarre animal that can climb trees and rocks. This animal may have been Australia's top predator before going extinct.
For the past 150 years, scientists have been studying about the marsupial lion that lived in the continent more than 40,000 years ago. Also known as Thylacoleo carnifex, the lion was believed to have powerful jaws and large claws.
In the study published in Nature's Scientific Reports, the findings of the researchers show valuable information about the lion. They reveal two key aspects of marsupial lion's biology, which includes their ability to climb trees and they were reared young in caves.
Paleontologists Sam Arman and Gavin Prideaux, from Flinders University, shed light on the behavior of one of the most unique carnivores ever to live in the continent. They have revealed that the marsupial lion left thousands of claw marks on surfaces inside a cave of limestones.
"The largest of the scratch marks could only have been made by adults of T. carnifex," Prideaux said.
"Many of the smaller marks were made by juveniles: they have the same form as that of the adults, but do not match claw marks made by other known cave dwellers," he added.
The team saw few high scratches on the walls near an exit suggesting that adults were strong enough to scale sheer rock.
They also found that marsupial young cubs are underdeveloped. They cannot be left alone in the cave until they are weaned. These caves serve as a safe and climate-controlled dwelling perfect for raising young marsupial lions.
Several bones of a rhinocerous-sized Diprotodon optatum, found in the cave showed few bite marks from a marsupial lion. This implies that these lions are flesh-eating and stripping experts. Their ability to climb trees or rocks coupled with a powerful bite and sharp claws make them an epitome of strength. Can you imagine that this lion can actually prey on the largest marsupial?
"Given that marsupial lions were apparently adapted to apprehending and consuming large prey, it is feasible that they hunted cooperatively," the researchers said.