Lion with a pouch had strongest bite of all time

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The Independent Online

The marsupial lion, a fearsome carnivore that roamed Australia tens of thousands of years ago, had the most powerful bite of any mammal, living or extinct, according to a study.

The marsupial lion, a fearsome carnivore that roamed Australia tens of thousands of years ago, had the most powerful bite of any mammal, living or extinct, according to a study.

Thylacoleo carnifex , which died out in the late Ice Age, possessed huge, chunky teeth that it used like bolt-cutters, slaughtering prey many times its size.

"It was arguably the most bizarre predator that ever walked this earth," Stephen Wroe, a palaeontologist at the University of Sydney, said yesterday. "It was like a long-legged wombat on steroids."

Dr Wroe's team of Australian and Canadian scientists examined the skulls of 39 carnivorous mammals, including the fossils of eight extinct species. They calculated the power of their bite, relative to body weight, and found that, pound for pound, marsupials came out on top.

The marsupial lion, so called because of its cat-like appearance, was related more closely to the koala than to the African lion. As well as its jaws and blade-like teeth, it had retractable claws in its thumbs, which it used to grapple its prey to the ground. "It waslethal," said Dr Wroe.

In its day, the Australian "hyper-carnivore" was as formidable as the sabre-toothed tiger in America, occupying a similar status as the continent's dominant predator. While it did not have the latter's long and fang-like canine teeth, it was just as efficient a killer.

The study, published in the science journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society , identified Australia's Tasmanian devil as the most ferocious biter of all living species.

The authors suggest that marsupials have stronger jaws than placentals - animals that develop in the womb - because they have smaller brains, leaving more room for muscle. But Dr Wroe said placentals, having traded brawn for brains, might be equally effective, since they targeted their prey more cleverly.

The marsupial lion weighed in at 100-200kg, and had a massive head and a thick, muscular tail. Among the herbivorous mega-fauna on which it could have feasted at the time was a three-ton gigantic wombat-like creature.

"It was incredibly powerfully built, more like a bear than a cat" said Dr Wroe. "Its bite force was extraordinary. It was a bruiser and a brawler. It gave hard knocks and took them too." He believes it killed its prey very quickly, "scissoring through" the animal's throat and associated blood vessels with its teeth.

"It would have been all over in seconds," he said.

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