After reconstructing the skeleton of the Nimbacinus dicksoni, an extinct carnivore, researchers concluded that its body structure allowed it to consume preys much bigger than its own size.
The research was conducted by Marie Attard of the University of New England and other scientists from the University of South Wales. The team acquired a ~16-11.6 million year old skull of the N.dicksoni from the Riversleigh World Heritage Fossil Site and they used this artifact to test the theory that this creature could consume a larger prey. Using 3D reconstruction techniques, they simulated the formation of the N.dicksoni's skull and compared it with the skull structure of its living relatives including the northern quoll, spotted-tailed quoll, and the Tasmanian devil.
After the computer remodeling, they discovered that the mechanical capabilities of the N.dicksoni's skull were more similar to the spotted-tailed quoll than to the Tasmanian tiger. They concluded that the skull weighs about 5 kilograms and has a very high bite force compared to its size. Also, since they are carnivorous, it was very probable that they used to hunt for preys larger than they are.
"Our findings suggest that Nimbacinus dicksoni was an opportunistic hunter, with potential prey including birds, frogs, lizards and snakes, as well as a wide range of marsupials. In contrast, the iconic Tasmanian tiger was considerably more specialized than large living dasyurids andNimbacinus, and was likely more restricted in the range of prey it could hunt, making it more vulnerable to extinction." Dr Attard explained in a press release.
The N.dicksoni is a member of the Thylacinidae, a family of extinct marsupials that used to thrive in Australia and New Guinea. Fossil artifacts for this family are rare, and the only specimen that scientists have been skull fragments.
Further details of this study can be read in the April 10 issue of PLOS One.