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Extinct 'micro lion' named after Sir David Attenborough

By R. Siva Kumar | Aug 24, 2016 10:25 AM EDT

A small, newly discovered species of marsupial lion lived about 18 million years ago. This was stumbled upon by paleontologists from the University of New South Wales in Australia.

Don't think it was like a cat, though. This guy looked like a squirrel and weighed just 1.3 pounds. He lived most probably on trees, with sharp molars that could rip smaller creatures----not humans like his big cousins did. 

"Microleo attenboroughi would have been more like the cute, but still feisty kitten of the family," researcher Anna Gillespie said in a news release. "It was not lion-size or even bob-cat-size. Weighing only about 600 grams, it was more like a ringtail possum in size."

The lion is dead but has got a cool, new name---Microleo attenboroughi. This was in honor of Sir David Attenborough, the British naturalist, who made a number of wildlife documentaries.

There is more on the etymology of the name, as the researchers write in a study  brought out in the online journal Palaeontologia Electronica:

"From micro meaning small (Greek) and leo meaning lion (Latin). The species name honors Sir David Attenborough for his dedication and enthusiasm in promoting the natural history of the world and the palaeontological treasures of the Riversleigh World Heritage Area in particular."

So this M. attenboroughi is the ninth and the smallest, marsupial lion species that has been located in fossils found at the Riversleigh World Heritage fossil site in Queensland, Australia.

"Microleo shared these northern Miocene rain forests with two larger species of marsupial lion, one cat-sized and the other dog-sized," Gillespie said. "Although it is possible they competed with one other, the size differences probably means they each specialized on a different size range of prey."

These marsupial lions are not forefathers of the modern ones in Africa, but are related more closely to marsupials such as koalas.

'Lion' is used as a reference to the ancient hunters as 'dangerous carnivores' just like the lions of today. 

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