The Australian megafauna is the name of a group of unique species of animals that existed on the territory of Australia in the period from approximately 1.6 million to 40 thousand years ago. We tell about 10 individuals who lived in the territory of ancient Australia, which could well become the heroes of a fantastic blockbuster.
Diprotodone. The largest Australian beast, the remains of which were found, is considered to be diproton. The herbivore reached about 3 m in length and about 2 m at the withers, and weighed more than 2.5 tonnes. It is the largest known marsupial animal that existed on Earth. Of the living relatives, the nearest to the diprotodone is wombat. Unlike wombat, diprotodon had fingers, specially bent inwards, which was ideal for digging holes. True, given the size of diprotodone, it is unlikely that he would dig his burrows. Apparently, one of his ancient ancestors was a normal beast and inherited such a feature. Before the appearance of a human on the continent, the diprotodone was worthy of fear only of a megalanie (giant lizard) and quinquany (land crocodile). The causes of the disappearance of diprotodone 55 thousand years ago cause controversy in the circles of scientists. Some associate this with human activities, others with climate change on the mainland.
Procopaptone. Not only wombat, but also another symbol of Australia – kangaroo – had a giant prehistoric ancestor. Prokoktodon, whose growth was 2-3 m, allowed himself the most luxurious dinner for herbivores: he could eat the leaves of tall trees. To make it more convenient to tear off the leaves from the trees, Prokodtodon used the front paws, each of which had two elongated toes with large claws. A strong skull and short muzzle talk about the strengthened masticatory muscles that helped to cope with stiff plants. The hind legs of prokoktodon also cause interest – on the soles of the feet there was one big thumb, similar to a horse’s hoof. Thanks to powerful legs, the giant marsupial moved quickly. The ability to jump, like modern kangaroos, gave an advantage in speed to other animals. Despite the size, he often had to get away from the predator. His main weapon was a long tail – yes, basically he served in fights with the rival for the female, but in which case the predator too could get a strong tail in the face. As in the case of diprotodone, the cause of the disappearance of super-kangaroos remains a mystery.
Marsupial lions (Thylacoleo). Although not as large – 1.5 m in length and 0.7 m at the withers – the marsupial lion was one of the terrible and dangerous animals of its time. This is the most predatory mammal, hunting for representatives of megafauna. So, his teeth are not similar to a predator, but rather similar to a rodent’s teeth: heavily enlarged front teeth replaced fangs as the main weapon. Carnivorous teeth were sharp, like a blade, which could be used not only for meat, but for bone. At first scientists thought that sharp carnivorous teeth are necessary for eating nuts, but later came to a conclusion – such features were required to bite the neck and be cut with thorns. The power of the bite of the marsupial lion was twice as powerful as that of the present lion, that is, it could claim the largest prey. Another unusual property was possessed by its tail, or rather, the bone structure of the tail. The presence of vertebrae points to strong muscles, thanks to which the lion could use the tail as a support during a fight with diproto- todon or another large and mighty beast. Another feature that no marsupial has is a retractable claw. Perhaps, like a modern leopard, the marsupial lion climbed onto the trees and attacked the victim from above. A detached thumb on the forelegs helped the lion to hold the prey, that is, to kill the animal, it sometimes did not even need teeth.
Genyornis newton – a giant goose named after the English ornithologist Alfred Newton, was more than 2 m tall and weighed an average of 200-240 kg. Until now, it has not been established whether it was a predator or herbivore. Perhaps Genyornis newton was eating carrion. In defense of the theory of the herbivorous nature of the ancient goose, short wings and powerful legs, as in ungulates, speak. However, the beak was simply huge, and the lower jaw deeply and strongly ossified.
Miolania. Behind this euphonious and melodic name is hidden 5-meter (this is tailored and tailed) turtle. The length of myiolani armor reached 2.5 m. When scientists first discovered the remains of myolania, they mistakenly attributed it to lizards (namely, to large lizards), hence the name appeared, which from Ancient Greek is translated as “vagabond”. Further findings proved that myolania is one of the largest tortoises that ever existed. She could well defend herself: she had two horns on her head, and thorns on her tail.
Megalania, or Varanus priscus. It is by analogy with the megalannia, the largest lizard that ever existed on the planet, was called the tortoise of myolania. Alas, little is known about this reptile – no complete fossil skeleton has been found yet. It is assumed that megalania reached 6 m in length (and some scientists claim that all 9). There are versions that a giant lizard poisoned its victims with poison, using deadly bacteria in saliva. Another entertaining theory is that megalania is not extinct: such judgments are based on frequent reports that residents of remote areas of Australia have seen incredible reptile sizes here and there.
Moa is a huge bird that inhabited New Zealand before the first humans appeared there. In total, there are 3 families and 9 Moa orders. The largest representative, Dinornis, reached 3.6 m in height and weighed about 250 kg. Moa lived peacefully and serenely: they had no wings (they did not need them), and even the plumage turned into a more primitive structure similar to hair (only waterproof). There was practically no one to be afraid of a huge herbivorous bird – until the foot of a man stepped on the land of New Zealand. Primitive people rasprobovali and evaluated the representatives of moa. The bird died out within one century, without even having time to develop a reasonable fear of a two-legged predator.
Eagle Haasta is the largest bird of prey in New Zealand, a thunderstorm of giant moas. The span of the wings of the Haast eagle reached 2.6 m, and the bird weighed from 10 to 14 kg. However, he was dangerous not so much in size as in his predatory abilities. If most birds are gliders, Haast’s eagle relied more on maneuverability and speed: watching the prey from a high place, for example, hiding in tall trees, the eagle swiftly attacked the animal at great speed. His long and strong claws, which may well be compared with tigers, were able to break bones. So, moa (exceeding the eagle in weight more than 10 times) died faster than I realized that it was hit on top. In the legends of Maori, the first people who inhabited New Zealand, Haast’s eagle was described as an ogre, and this can not be ruled out, given its size and strength. However, soon after the settlement of the territory by people, the eagles of Haast were extinct: on the one hand, they were exterminated by man, on the other – their main food, moa and other kinds of birds were destroyed.
Quinqana is a terrestrial crocodile, whose length could reach 6 m. Like most representatives of the Australian megafauna, disappeared from the face of the Earth about 40 thousand years ago. Unlike today’s crocodiles, which are mostly waterfowl, Quinquana was well on land. The direct position of the limbs made it possible to quickly catch up with the victim. If today’s crocodiles do not have sharp teeth – their goal is to capture and keep a sinking victim, then quincans could boast of sharp serrated teeth.
Zaglossus hacketti. Against the background of other giants, the Zaglossus hacketti appears to be a miniature animal, about a meter long and weighing 30 kg, that is, the size of a modern sheep. Nevertheless, Zaglossus hacketti is the largest known species of one-pass, a relative of echidna. His body was covered with thorns to somehow protect himself from the attack of predators. The front paws of the Zaglossus hacketti were longer than the rear, so that you could deftly dig the termite nests. Perhaps the animal was fed by larvae, worms and other invertebrates – in favor of this said long, half a meter, elongated muzzle. Needless to say that they also died out after the arrival of a man on the territory of Australia and Oceania.