The gentle bilby - Australia's stand-in for the Easter bunny - had an ancient relative that was a far more fearsome little beast, a new study has found.
Although modern bilbies are mild-mannered creatures that eat mainly plants and insects, one ancestor 20 million years ago had the stout skull, muscular jaws and flesh-tearing teeth of a small but formidable predator, according to a paper to be published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
The finding is based on an almost complete skull of the fossil marsupial, which has been named Galadi speciosus, discovered by a team of UNSW scientists at the Riversleigh World Heritage Area fossil site in northern Queensland.
"The preservation of the skull is exceptional - almost as good as for a modern animal - and this gives us a lot of information about Galadi's anatomy, relationships and probable lifestyle," says Dr Kenny Travouillon, of the UNSW School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, who is lead author of the study.
Co-author Dr Robin Beck, from the American Museum of Natural History, points out that, while Galadi probably weighed only about one kilogram, it appears to have been specialised to hunt for vertebrate prey.
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