The recently found remains from northwestern Queensland belonged to a new species of extinct carnivorous marsupial that terrorized Australia’s forests 5 million years ago. The research team named it Whollydooleya tomnpatrichorum, a distant cousin of the Tasmanian Devil that weighed between 20 and 25 kilograms

W. tomnpatrichorum is the first among new animals formally identified in the Queensland fossil site called New Riversleigh. As reported in the journal Memoirs of Museum Victoria, it had very powerful teeth that it used to kill and slice the biggest animals that also lived during its time.

The study was led by Mike Archer, a professor at the University of New South Wales (UNSW). The research team began investigating the fossil site back in 2013.

Whollydooleya tomnpatrichorum

This is a Malleodectes, also a relative of the Tasmanian Devil, found in Riversleigh. Illustration by Peter Schouten

The new animal was named after Riversleigh volunteer Genevieve Dooley, Archer’s partner. Although fierce, Archer says that W. tomnpatrichorum’s days were actually numbered due to the increasingly harsh environment.

It represented a different subgroup of hypercarnivores that did not survive the changing environment. Despite this, W. tomnpatrichorum and other fossil remains found at the site can give us a glimpse of what the environment and climate was like 12 and 5 million years ago, which UNSW postdoctoral researcher in palaeontology Karen Black says was an important time when dryness resulted to the Ice Ages of the Pleistocene.

The other animal teeth at Riversleigh were worn down.  This indicates that the plants they ate during the late Miocene were tougher and resistant to drought.

“New Riversleigh is producing the remains of a bevy of strange new small- to medium-sized creatures, with W. tomnpatrichorum the first one to be described,” adds Archer. “These new discoveries are starting to fill in a large hole in our understanding about how Australia’s land animals transformed from being small denizens of its ancient wet forests to huge survivors on the second most arid continent on Earth.”