Thursday, January 17, 2008

Thylacoleo Could Have Munched African Leo

Pound for pound, Australia’s extinct marsupial lion (Thylacoleo carnifex) would have made mince meat of today’s African lion (Panthera leo) had the two big hyper-carnivores ever squared off in a fight to the death, according to an Australian scientist.

New research published in the Journal of Zoology suggests that Thylacoleo killed prey rapidly, using its “bolt-cutter” type teeth to scissor through hide and flesh to produce major trauma and blood loss.

By contrast, African lions and similar big cats of today use their bite force to suffocate prey, using a “clamp and hold” technique that can take up to 15 minutes with large prey such as Cape buffalo.

“My results suggest that the marsupial lion employed a unique killing technique,” says research author Stephen Wroe. “It used its massive carnassial cheekteeth to effect major trauma and a rapid kill. Unlike any living mammalian carnivores, the marsupial’s carnassials were not only butchery tools but also active components in the killing process.”

Using a sophisticated computer modelling method [finite element (FE) analysis], that renders dynamic 3D models based on CT scans of the marsupial’s cranial mechanics and musculoskeletal architecture, Wroe has revealed that the creature’s skull, jaw, and head and neck muscles were well adapted to using the unique technique for killing large prey, but not for delivering the prolonged suffocating bite of living big cats.

Too bad. The title of the article smacks a bit of Death Star vs Enterprise, but, y'know, why not. However, the fact that they modeled this bugger's chomper and found it so different from the modern cats bite is fascinating. Unwin did a lot of modeling for how pterosaurs walk and others have tried to do so with dinosaur movement rates, but I suspect that the science that could be done with computer models and all things paleo has barely been scratched.


the Albino Bowler said...

Hey. Just found your blog as I am researching the prehistoric Aussie "tigers" etc for a post I'll write tonight. Check out my post about Koalas and their strange link to Matthew McConaughey. It's my current hot news at the Kangaroo Rodeo.

Bowhead Whale said...

I wish those animals still existed, today. That feature of eating meat using beaver-like incisors is really alien-like. I also wonder what kind of voice they actually had...