Australian Paleontologists are having a field day, literally.
In one of the most significant findings in Australian history, scientists have discovered the first complete skeleton of a giant wombat which is believed to have lived some two million years ago. These giant creatures are thought to have once been widespread across the continent and to have coexisted with the first Australian Aborigines before becoming extinct about 25,000 years ago. Their demise could have been due to overhunting, climate change or a combination of the two, but scientists are still unsure.
The 14-foot-long skeleton was unearthed at Floraville Station in northern Queensland, which has been a hotspot of big bones for paleontologists for years.
Officially called a Diprotodon optatum, this three-ton marsupial is part of the collective group of oversized animals called Australian Megafuana, which roamed the country millions of years ago. Diprotodon, meaning two forward teeth, is also referred to as the Giant Wombat or the Rhinoceros Wombat.
Wombats, like other marsupials, carry their young in a pouch. However, the Wombat carries its pouch on its back instead of its belly. If these ancient creatures were anything like the modern day wombats, they were herbivores, eating mostly grasses, sedges, herbs and roots. Like many large living herbivores, Diprotodon was a heavily built, large-bellied quadruped with sharp, rodent-like teeth.
Its oversized skull, like those of other diprotodontids, was lightweight and filled with numerous air spaces. They may not have been able to outwit their opponents, but they would have bit, charged and bowled over anyone confronting them. Ouch!