Ancient Australian Megafauna: Diprotodon optatum

Ancient Australian Megafauna: Diprotodon optatum

Diprotodon optatum was the largest marsupial to ever roam Australia, weighing over two tonnes. We rarely find its whole skeleton preserved in caves because it’s sheer size prevented it from falling through crevices into the oblivion.

Although phylogenetically Diprotodon optatum was closely related to the extant wombat and koala, in terms of its physiology in appearance it was a hulking, intimidating mass not unlike a modern hippo or rhino. It was three metres in length and two metres tall and like tram going down Collins Street (and akin to the warning signs on the street) it was as heavy as this.

Ancient Australian Megafauna: Diprotodon optatum

It had elephantine legs as thick as tree trunks and broad footpads. Diprotodon optatum was a grazer and a herbivore and so possessed a prodigiously large gut for digesting leaves, along with powerful jaws and stubbly teeth in order to grind up leaves. It subsisted from leaves in a diverse range of environments in Australia however prefered the inland areas and would travel far in search of water.

A face that's good for working in radio
A face that’s good for working in radio

Although large and imposing in appearance the Diprotodon optatum was not the George Clooney of the megafauna world and had a  crumpled and squashed face like a pig after having a head-on collision with a hot dog stand, it had quite prominent flaps on its face and feet turned inwards giving it an awkward pigeon-like appearance. It inhabited Australia at the same time as ancient tribes of Aboriginal Australians, the only true and sustainable human custodians of the continent way back 40,000 years ago. Paleontologists estimate that the Diprotodon optatum went extinct at around 30,000-40,000 years ago due to vast changes in climate and the Last Glacial Maximum otherwise known as the last Ice Age.

Diprotodon optatum was akin to a tram hurtling down Bourke St
Diprotodon optatum was akin to a tram hurtling down Bourke St

 

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