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03. Scott Hocknull - Dinosaur Man

Mt Etna KOALAS AND BANDICOOTS

Image of Phascolarctos cinereus by Lip Kee

Image of Phascolarctos cinereus by Lip Kee, Creative Commons licence BY-SA. Images of fossil teeth by Scott Hocknull, © Queensland Museum.

It was previously thought that the Koala family (Phascolarctidae) had once been diverse in rainforests. By approximately 10-15 million years ago, all of these primitive rainforest-dwelling koalas were extinct. They simply left no descendants. The only koala to survive solely ate eucalypt leaves and exists to the present day.

The Mt Etna site has revealed

  • An ancient koala, called Madakoala, from about 10-15 million years ago that survived into the Pleistocene. It became extinct in Australia sometime after 280,000 years ago
  • Fossils of the modern koala, Phascolarctos

Therefore, rainforests of Australia had not one, but two species of koala at one stage in the past.

Images of Perameles, Isoodon (left-hand side), by Gary Cranitchand Macrotis by Bruce Cowell

Images of Perameles, Isoodon (left-hand side), by Gary Cranitchand Macrotis by Bruce Cowell, © Queensland Museum; Isoodon (right-hand side), by Pierre Pouliquin, Creative Commons licence BY-NC; western barred bandicoot, Perameles bougainville, and pig-footed bandicoot, Chaeropus ecaudatus, Museum Board of South Australia, copyright has expired.

Bandicoots are quite abundant and show the change from rainforest to arid faunas very clearly.

The rainforest bandicoots are closely related to ancient bandicoots and species from New Guinea. After 205,000 years ago, they were replaced by species found in the arid zone. Of particular importance are the arid zone bandicoots:

  • The bilby, Macrotis lagotis, which is now an endangered species in Queensland
  • The pig-footed bandicoot, Chaeropus ecaudatus, which was extinct by the mid 20th Century