THYLACINE | THE LARGEST KNOWN CARNIVOROUS MARSUPIAL

THYLACINE | THE LARGEST KNOWN CARNIVOROUS MARSUPIAL

The Thylacine was a carnivorous marsupial that lived on the Australian mainland as well as the islands of Tasmania and New Guinea before becoming extinct. Prior to its extinction, it was the world’s largest known carnivorous marsupial, developing about 2 million years ago. In Tasmania, the last known live animal was taken in 1930. It’s also known as the Tasmanian wolf or Tasmanian tiger. It had the general appearance of a medium-to-large canid, with the exception of its stiff tail and abdominal pouch, which reminded me of a kangaroo. Despite being unrelated, it had anatomy and adaptations comparable to the Northern Hemisphere tiger and wolf, such as dark transverse stripes radiating from the top of its back, due to convergent evolution.

Before British occupation of the continent, the Tasmanian tiger had become locally extinct on both New Guinea and the Australian mainland, but its last bastion was on the island of Tasmania, where it coexisted with numerous other endemic species, notably the Tasmanian devil. Intensive hunting encouraged by bounties is widely blamed for its demise, but sickness, the introduction of dogs, and human encroachment into its habitat may also have played a role.

During the Early Pleistocene, the modern thylacine first emerged around 2 million years ago. Specimens from the Pliocene-aged Chinchilla Fauna, previously thought to represent Thylacinus cynocephalus and identified as Thylacinus rostralis by Charles De Vis in 1894, have been proved to be either curatorial errors or unclear in their particular assignment. The plesiomorphic Badjcinus Turnbulli appeared during the late Oligocene, and the family Thylacinid comprises at least 12 species in eight genera. Early thylacinids were quoll-sized, weighing less than 10 kg, and likely ate insects, tiny reptiles, and mammals, while Wabulacinus shows hints of a more carnivorous diet as early as the early Miocene. Thylacinus members are distinguished by a substantial rise in size and display of carnivorous dental features, with the biggest species, Thylacinus potens and Thylacinus megiriani, nearing wolf proportions. The contemporary thylacine was widespread throughout Australia and New Guinea throughout the Late Pleistocene and early Holocene periods.

The thylacine, a famous example of convergent evolution, shared many characteristics with members of the Canidae dog family in the Northern Hemisphere, including sharp teeth, strong jaws, high heels, and a similar overall body structure. Because the thylacine occupied the same ecological niche as canids in Australia and New Guinea, it evolved many of the same characteristics. Despite this, it is unconnected to any of the Northern Hemisphere’s placental mammal predators as a marsupial.

However, thylacine has long been regarded as a Tasmanian icon. The animal is shown on Tasmania’s official coat of arms. The Tasmanian government and the City of Launceston both utilize it in their official logos. It’s also on the ceremonial mace of the University of Tasmania and the submarine HMAS Dechaineux’s badge. It has been prominently shown on Tasmanian car license plates since 1998.

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