July 9, 2010

Scientists Dig Up Saber-Tooth Cat In Australia

The remains of a strange, prehistoric saber-tooth cat have been unearthed in an ancient former rainforest in Australia, scientists said Thursday.

Paleontologist Henk Godthelp, who led the discovery, said this is the first time the carnivore had been seen in Australia. He called the find an exciting and unique discovery.

The animal is "sort of like a native cat with a broad flattish head with large canines," said Godthelp. "It's an animal we don't think we've seen before up at Riversleigh so it was quite a nice find for us," he told AFP.

Riversleigh, in the north-eastern state of Queensland, was a prehistoric rainforest which is now a popular spot for fossil hunters, where animals were trapped and ossified in its lime-rich pools.

In the past 35 years, the region has been a popular hunting ground for paleontologists. Species such as carnivorous kangaroos, gigantic flightless birds and ancient platypus are among the most unusual finds. Tree-dwelling crocodiles and primitive koalas and wombats have also been found.

Many of the thousands of species discovered in Riversleigh have "never been seen anywhere else in Australia" and the world, said Godthelp, adding that the skull of the newly found cat was small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.

The World Heritage site also has one of the world's richest mammal deposits from the Oligo-Miocene era, from 15 to 25 million years ago. There are as many as 200 separate lime pools spread out over a 30 square mile region.

Scientists will now use acid to dissolve the huge chunk of rock which contained the skull, in the hope of finding the remains of its body.


Image Caption: Close up view of a saber tooth cat head on display at the American Natural History Museum, New York. Credit: Wikipedia


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