For most Aussies, Koala is one of the wild animals that receive a lot of love. These gentle creatures are widely found in Australia’s Eucalyptus forests. But how much do you know about koalas? Do you know that the ancient koalas were a little bit different from the modern species? Well, scientists have an interesting finding for these animals.
According to recent research, scientists have discovered how koalas lived millions of years ago. To be specific, this group of scientists retrieved information of the ancient koala that lived about 24 million years ago.
The koala fossil for this research was collected in the past quarter of the century. Most of them come from popular Riversleigh fields. This is one of the World heritage-listed fossil sites in Australia. It’s located in Lawn Hill National park.
The scientific paper, which was published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, was authored by a team of scientists, including researchers from the CSIRO and the University of NSW. One of the findings is that the modern koala has maintained most of the behaviours of the ancient koala. That’s because of the little change of the body structure.
According to one of the leading scientists, Mike Archer, professor of biological, earth, and environmental science at the University of NSW, the finding showed that there is probably no other time in the history of Australia there was a huge population of Koalas than today. This was seen from the small number of the specimen that the team found.
Professor Archer says that the rarity of the ancient Koala fossils is the reason why it has taken too long to analyse these creatures. Out of over 40,000 specimens that the team was able to collect from the site, only six of them were koala. This indicates that compared to other animals in Australia, koalas were very few.
One of the interesting findings of this research paper is the relationship between koalas and wombats. Just like today, the ancient species of the two animals show striking similarities. But some differences stood out between the modern and ancient koala species.
From the fossils of the extinct koala, it shows that these koalas were small in size. That’s when compared to modern species. The extinct types may have been a third or quarter smaller. This information can tell a lot about the life of the koala. It could also explain why they have grown larger over the years. That’s one of the major differences noted.
Apart from size, the journal highlighted is the cranial structures used for vocalisation. Whereas modern koalas are very vocal, the ancient species were not. The modern grown male koala loud bellows can be heard even 800m away. According to Professor Archer, their bellows could hardly be heard compared to the modern species.
The jaws and teeth are another major difference between the two species. It shows that what the extinct koalas were eating differently from modern varieties. What was interesting to note is the ancient fossil teeth. They were not eating tough leaves such as those from gum trees.
One last thing the scientific paper was able to bring out is the eucalypts in Australia forests. With the difference in koala teeth, it’s a sign that there were no gum trees in ancient Australia. But this needs further research. There are other factors that could have caused changes in koala eating habits.