Comparison of a short-faced kangaroo skull with those of a koala and modern kangaroo. Credit: D. Rex Mitchell
New research has revealed that Australia’s extinct short-faced kangaroos were a marsupial version of the giant panda, with jaws adapted to browsing woody, poor-quality vegetation.
The short-faced kangaroos of Ice Age Australia were massively thickset—the largest species would have weighed more than 220 kg—and had large heads shaped like a koala’s.
A new study by Dr. Rex Mitchell, a researcher with Australia’s University of New England (UNE) and the University of Arkansas, has established that the skull of one species in particular was geared for high-performance crushing of foods. This adaptation would have been useful for survival in low-productivity landscapes.
“Some species of these extinct kangaroos had massive skulls, with enormous cheek bones and wide foreheads,” Dr. Mitchell said.
“All this bone would have taken a lot of energy to produce and maintain, so it follows that it wouldn’t have evolved unless they really needed it to bite hard into at least some more resistant foods that were important in their diets.”