June 24, 2024

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“Echidnapus”: Australian scientists discover ancient monotremes

“Echidnapus”: Australian scientists discover ancient monotremes

Image source, Peter Schouten/Australian Museum

Comment on the photo, Echidnapus, bottom left, is among six monophyletic species discovered in the Lightning Ridge opal fields

  • author, Tiffany Turnbull
  • Role, BBC News, Sydney

Scientists have discovered a strange creature called the echidnabos, which they believe roamed Australia in prehistoric times.

Fossilized pieces of the animal’s jawbone have been found in opal fields in northern New South Wales, along with evidence of several other ancient species that are now extinct.

Officially named Opalius is greatThe new species was named for its resemblance to the platypus and the echidna, the only egg-laying mammals in the world today.

The team behind the research say it suggests Australia was once a “monotreme” – where an incredibly rare order of animals was abundant and dominant.

“It’s like discovering a completely new civilisation,” said lead author Professor Tim Flannery.

The fossil collection was found about 25 years ago by paleontologist Elizabeth Smith and her daughter Clete while examining waste at an opal mine.

They donated the specimens, estimated to be about 100 million years old, to the Australian Museum, where they remained forgotten in a drawer until about two years ago.

Professor Flannery, a mammalogist, says he found it and immediately knew it was an ancient monopod.

Some bones belong to already discovered ones Stereopodon galmaniia shorter, more massive, and toothier ancestor of the platypus.

“[The Opalios splendens’s] “The general anatomy is probably quite platypus-like, but with jaw and snout features somewhat similar to the echidna,” Professor Helgen said.

All opal fossils are rare, and monolithic ones even more so, but these specimens are a “revelation,” Ms. Smith says.

They brought the total number of monotreme species known to have once lived on Lightning Ridge – which in ancient times was a cold, damp forest bordering a vast inland sea – to six.

“It shows the world that long before Australia became a land of pouched mammals and marsupials, it was a land of furry egg layers – monotremes,” Ms Smith says.

“It appears that 100 million years ago, there were more monotremes at Lightning Ridge than anywhere else on Earth, past or present.”

Other experts say it is too early to say whether Australia once hosted a large number of monotremes, and that more exploration is needed.

“They were probably at least as diverse as later Australian marsupials… but I need more evidence,” Rod Wells, a paleontologist at Flinders University, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The study’s authors hope their paper will encourage more funding for more targeted excavations in the area, to support their findings.