Extinct tiger had unique elbow, hunting style

by Mary Caperton Morton
Monday, December 12, 2016

During the Pleistocene, the marsupial lion, Thylacoleo carnifex, was one of Australia’s top predators. Fossil records indicate the jaguar-sized cat died out between 20,000 and 10,000 years ago (although rumors persist the “Queensland Tiger” may still survive in isolated habitats). In a new study examining Thylacoleo fossils, researchers have now found an elbow joint unique among living predatory mammals.

Thylacoleo may have resembled a lion, but the proportions of its limbs suggest that it probably didn’t rely on speed to catch its prey. “Surprisingly,” its elbow joint suggests “a great deal of rotational capacity of the hand, like an arboreal mammal, but also features not seen in living climbers, that would have stabilized the limb on the ground (suggesting that it was not simply a climber),” said lead author Christine Janis of the University of Bristol in England, in a statement.

In their study, published in Paleobiology, Janis and colleagues proposed that this unique elbow joint, in combination with the huge dew claw the cat sported on a mobile thumb, would have been used by the marsupial lion to kill its prey.

Modern lions tend to hold prey with their claws and kill it with their teeth. Thylacoleo had somewhat blunt incisors and massive shearing teeth in the back of the jaw. The unusual dentition suggests that the marsupial lion may have held its prey with its teeth and killed it with its claws, a killing style unique among most known predators.

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