Extinct short-faced kangaroo in Ice Age Australia had a head like a PANDA, scientists say after they discover it had a big, tough skull for eating wood 

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  • Researchers at the University of Arkansas believe the 42,000 year-old evolved  
  • Developed a wider, shorter skull in order to withstanding forces of biting wood
  • The findings were published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal, PLOS ONE  

Researchers at the University of Arkansas believe the 42,000 year-old animal developed a wider, shorter skull in order to withstanding the forces of biting wood

Researchers at the University of Arkansas believe the 42,000 year-old animal developed a wider, shorter skull in order to withstanding the forces of biting wood

Rex Mitchell, post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Arkansas, used computed tomography scans to create three-dimensional models of the skull of Simosthenurus occidentalis

Rex Mitchell, post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Arkansas, used computed tomography scans to create three-dimensional models of the skull of Simosthenurus occidentalis

Ice Age kangaroos looked quite different to the diet and appearance of today's Australian breed - and much more like giant pandas, which crush bamboo for consumption

Ice Age kangaroos looked quite different to the diet and appearance of today’s Australian breed – and much more like giant pandas, which crush bamboo for consumption

An extinct kangaroo from Ice Age Australia looked very dissimilar to its modern-day peers, according to scientists.

Researchers at the University of Arkansas believe the 42,000 year-old animal developed a wider, shorter skull in order to withstanding the forces of biting wood, which it regularly consumed as part of its diet. 

This is quite different to the diet and appearance of today’s Australian kangaroos – and much more like giant pandas, which crush bamboo for consumption.

The new findings, published in PLOS ONE, support the hypothesis that they were capable of persisting on tough, poor-quality vegetation, when more desirable foods were scarce because of droughts or glacial periods. 

Rex Mitchell, post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Arkansas, used computed tomography scans to create three-dimensional models of the skull of Simosthenurus occidentalis, a well-represented species of short-faced kangaroo that persisted until about 42,000 years ago. 

Working with the models, Mitchell performed bite simulations. The resulting forces at the jaw joints and biting teeth were measured, as well as stress experienced across the skull during biting.

He compared the findings from the short-faced kangaroo to those obtained from models of the koala, a species alive today with the most similar skull shape. 

‘The skull of the extinct kangaroo studied here differs from those of today’s kangaroos in many of the ways a giant panda’s skull differs from other bears,’ said Rex Mitchell, post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Arkansas. 

‘So it seems that the strange skull of this kangaroo was, in a functional sense, less like a modern-day kangaroo’s and more like a giant panda’s.’

Mitchell used computed tomography scans to create three-dimensional models of the skull of Simosthenurus occidentalis. 

Working with the models, Mitchell performed bite simulations. The resulting forces at the jaw joints and biting teeth were measured, as well as stress experienced across the skull during biting.

He compared the findings from the short-faced kangaroo to those obtained from models of the koala, a species alive today with the most similar skull shape. 

These comparisons demonstrated the importance of the extinct kangaroo’s bony, heavily reinforced skull features in producing and withstanding strong forces during biting. 

‘Compared to the kangaroos of today, the extinct, short-faced kangaroos of ice age Australia would be a strange sight to behold,’ Mitchell said.

They included the largest kangaroo species ever discovered, with some species estimated to weigh more than 400 pounds. 

The bodies of these kangaroos were much more robust than those of today – which top out at about 150 pounds – with long muscular arms and large heads shaped like a koala’s.  

Some species of these extinct kangaroos had massive skulls, with enormous cheek bones and wide foreheads.

‘All this bone would have taken a lot of energy to produce, so it makes sense that such robust skulls wouldn’t have evolved unless they really needed to bite hard into at least some more resistant foods that were important in their diets,’ he said. 

 



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