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Megafauna Monday: Nimbadon

By Pat, 23 September 2013 News

Artist's impression of a mother and juvenile Nimbadon in a tree.

Artist’s impression of a mother Nimbadon and her baby. Image: Peter Schouten/PLOS ONE

Welcome to Megafauna Monday, where we help you chase away the post-weekend blues by showcasing some of the mighty beasts that once roamed the planet.

Fast facts

Scientific name: Nimbadon lavarackorum

Lived: approximately 15 to 12 million years ago. Fossils have been found in north-western Queensland and the Northern Territory.

Ate: soft leaves, and may have sometimes eaten fruit.

Claim to fame: among the largest arboreal (tree-dwelling) mammals ever to have lived.

Modern day equivalent: a sheep-sized tree wombat.

More information

Although Nimbadon came from the same family of mammals as Diprotodon (called Diprotodontidae), there are some big differences between these animals. For one thing, Diprotodon survived until at least 45 000 years ago, while Nimbadon became extinct around 12 million years ago. Nimbadon was also a fraction of the size, probably growing to 70 kilograms, in comparison to the 3000 kilogram Diprotodon.

When Nimbadon fossils were first discovered, paleontologists assumed Nimbadon lived on the ground like its other diprotodontid relatives. However, a team of researchers looked a little closer at Nimbadon fossils in 2012. They compared Nimbadon limb bones to those of other extinct megafauna, but also to the modern day wombat, koala and brushtail possum. They found a number of similarities between the limbs of Nimbadon and those of the tree-dwelling koala and possum. The claws and front limbs of Nimbadon were particularly well adapted to climbing trees. This discovery indicates that Nimbadon is the largest known arboreal, herbivorous marsupial.

When Nimbadon lived, around 15 million years ago, Australia was much wetter than it is now. Rainforests were more common, and Nimbadon would probably have called the tall, rainforest canopies home. However, Australia started drying out, and rainforests gave way to open woodlands. Paleontologists theorise the loss of rainforest habitat led to the extinction of Nimbadon about 12 million years ago.

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