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Temporal range: Late Oligocene–Late Pleistocene
Thylacoleo skeleton diagram.tiff
Scientific classification OOjs UI icon edit-ltr.svg
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Infraclass: Marsupialia
Order: Diprotodontia
Suborder: Vombatiformes
Family: Thylacoleonidae
Gill, 1872 [1]

Thylacoleonidae is a family of extinct carnivorous diprotodontian marsupials from Australia, referred to as marsupial lions. [2] The best known is Thylacoleo carnifex , also called the marsupial lion. [3] The clade ranged from the Late Oligocene to the Late Pleistocene, with some species the size of a possum, while members of Thylacoleo reached sizes comparable to living big cats.



Illustration of lower dentition of Thylacoleo reconstructed by Owen, 1877 Figure 18 in Researches on fossil mammals Australia Owen.jpg
Illustration of lower dentition of Thylacoleo reconstructed by Owen, 1877

A notable distinctive feature of thylacoleonids is their unusual blade-like third premolars, [4] which functioned as the carnassial teeth. [5] Thylacoleonids varied widely in body size. One of the smallest thylacoleonids, the Early Miocene Microleo attenboroughi , is estimated to have had a body mass of 590 grams (1.30 lb), while the last species of the family, the Pleistocene Thylacoleo carnifex is suggested to have had a body mass of around 160 kilograms (350 lb), comparable to a big cat. [6] Later members of the group saw progressive reduction in the number of teeth in the jaws. [7]


Early members of Thylacinidae like Microleo, Lekaneleo and early species of Wakaleo were likely arboreal tree climbing mammals, though later members of Wakaleo and Thylacoleo were likely primarily terrestrial with some climbing capabilities. [8] [9] Earlier species of Thylacoleonidae like Lekaneleo roskellyae are suggested to have been omnivorous, while at least later species of Wakaleo and Thylacoleo are thought to have been hypercarnivores. [10]


Thylacoleontidae is considered a member of Diprotodontia, though its precise position within that group is uncertain. They have often been considered a basal group (often the most basal group) within Vombatiformes, making their closest living relatives wombats and koalas, [11] though other authors have placed them at the base of Diprotodontia, outside of either Vombatiformes, Phalangeriformes or Macropodiformes. [12] Thylacoleonids are thought to have evolved from herbivorous ancestors. [5]

The family was described by Theodore Gill in a systematic revision of mammalian taxa published by the Smithsonian Institution in 1872. [1] The name is derived from the genus named by Richard Owen, Thylacoleo , which he recognised as a potent carnivore and described as marsupial version of the modern lions (Leo).

A revision of the family was published in 2017, enabled by the discovery of a skull of an early species, named as Wakaleo schouteni , which allowed closer comparison with previously described species and the more complete fossil record of the lineages. The study by Anna Gillespie, Mike Archer and Suzanne Hand, revised the description of Wakaleo to include a new species and circumscribe taxa previously assigned to Priscileo. [7]


Five genera are currently accepted as belonging to this family: [13]

Cladogram after Gillespie (2023): [10]


Microleo attenboroughi

Enigmaleo archeri

Lekaneleo roskellyae

Lekaneleo myersi

Wakaleo pitikantensis

Wakaleo schouteni

Wakaleo oldfieldi

Wakaleo vanderfeueri

Wakaleo alcootaensis


Thylacoleo hilli

Thylacoleo crassidentatus

Thylacoleo carnifex

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Diprotodontia</span> Order of marsupial mammals

Diprotodontia is the largest extant order of marsupials, with about 155 species, including the kangaroos, wallabies, possums, koala, wombats, and many others. Extinct diprotodonts include the hippopotamus-sized Diprotodon, and Thylacoleo, the so-called "marsupial lion".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Peramelemorphia</span> Order of mammals

The order Peramelemorphia includes the bandicoots and bilbies. All members of the order are endemic to Australia-New Guinea and most have the characteristic bandicoot shape: a plump, arch-backed body with a long, delicately tapering snout, very large upright ears, relatively long, thin legs, and a thin tail. Their size varies from about 140 grams up to 4 kilograms, but most species are about one kilogram.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Phascolarctidae</span> Family of marsupials

The Phascolarctidae is a family of marsupials of the order Diprotodontia, consisting of only one extant species, the koala, and six well-known fossil species, with another five less well known fossil species, and two fossil species of the genus Koobor, whose taxonomy is debatable but are placed in this group. The closest relatives of the Phascolarctidae are the wombats, which comprise the family Vombatidae.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Vombatiformes</span> Suborder of marsupials

The Vombatiformes are one of the three suborders of the large marsupial order Diprotodontia. Seven of the nine known families within this suborder are extinct; only the families Phascolarctidae, with the koala, and Vombatidae, with three extant species of wombat, survive.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thylacinidae</span> Extinct family of marsupials

Thylacinidae is an extinct family of carnivorous marsupials from the order Dasyuromorphia. The only species to survive into modern times was the thylacine, which became extinct in 1936.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Megalania</span> Largest species of lizard (extinct)

Megalania is an extinct species of giant monitor lizard, part of the megafaunal assemblage that inhabited Australia during the Pleistocene. It is the largest terrestrial lizard known to have existed, reaching an estimated length of 3.5 to 7 metres, and weighing between 97–1,940 kg (214–4,277 lb), but the fragmentary nature of known remains make estimates highly uncertain.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Australidelphia</span> Superorder of marsupials

Australidelphia is the superorder that contains roughly three-quarters of all marsupials, including all those native to Australasia and a single species — the monito del monte — from South America. All other American marsupials are members of the Ameridelphia. Analysis of retrotransposon insertion sites in the nuclear DNA of a variety of marsupials has shown that the South American monito del monte's lineage is the most basal of the superorder.

<i>Phascolarctos</i> Genus of marsupials

Phascolarctos is a genus of marsupials with one extant species, the koala Phascolarctos cinereus, an iconic animal of Australia. Several extinct species of the genus are known from fossil material, these were also large tree dwellers that browsed on Eucalyptus leaves.

<i>Thylacoleo</i> Extinct genus of marsupials

Thylacoleo is an extinct genus of carnivorous marsupials that lived in Australia from the late Pliocene to the Late Pleistocene, often known as marsupial lions. They were the largest and last members of the family Thylacoleonidae, occupying the position of apex predator within Australian ecosystems. The largest and last species, Thylacoleo carnifex approached the weight of a lioness. The estimated average weight for the species ranges from 101 to 130 kg.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sparassodonta</span> Extinct order of mammals

Sparassodonta is an extinct order of carnivorous metatherian mammals native to South America, related to modern marsupials. They were once considered to be true marsupials, but are now thought to be a separate side branch that split before the last common ancestor of all modern marsupials. A number of these mammalian predators closely resemble placental predators that evolved separately on other continents, and are cited frequently as examples of convergent evolution. They were first described by Florentino Ameghino, from fossils found in the Santa Cruz beds of Patagonia. Sparassodonts were present throughout South America's long period of "splendid isolation" during the Cenozoic; during this time, they shared the niches for large warm-blooded predators with the flightless terror birds. Previously, it was thought that these mammals died out in the face of competition from "more competitive" placental carnivorans during the Pliocene Great American Interchange, but more recent research has showed that sparassodonts died out long before eutherian carnivores arrived in South America. Sparassodonts have been referred to as borhyaenoids by some authors, but currently the term Borhyaenoidea refers to a restricted subgroup of sparassodonts comprising borhyaenids and their close relatives.

<i>Palorchestes</i> Extinct genus of marsupial

Palorchestes is an extinct genus of large terrestrial, herbivorous Australian marsupial of the family Palorchestidae, living from the Miocene through to the Late Pleistocene. Like other palorchestids, it had highly retracted nasal region suggesting that it had a prehensile lip, as well as highly unusual clawed forelimbs that were used to grasp vegetation.

<i>Wakaleo</i> Extinct genus of marsupials

Wakaleo is an extinct genus of medium-sized thylacoleonids that lived in Australia in the Late Oligocene and Miocene Epochs. Although much smaller than its close relative, the marsupial lion, Wakaleo would have been a successful hunter. It had teeth specially designed for cutting and stabbing. The genus is from an extinct family of Vombatiformes, so it is distantly related to the herbivorous wombats.

<i>Ekaltadeta</i> Extinct genus of marsupials

Ekaltadeta is an extinct genus of marsupials related to the modern musky rat-kangaroos. Ekaltadeta was present in what is today the Riversleigh formations in Northern Queensland from the Late Oligocene to the Miocene.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Palorchestidae</span> Extinct family of marsupials

Palorchestidae is an extinct family of vombatiform marsupials whose members are sometimes referred to as marsupial tapirs due to the retracted nasal region of the their skulls causing them to superficially resemble those of true tapirs. The idea that they had a tapir-like trunk has been contested, with other authors contending that it is more likely that they had a prehensile lip and protrusible tongue instead. While earlier representatives like Propalorchestes had relatively unspecialsed forelimbs, the last member of the family, Palorchestes developed unusual clawed forelimbs with a morphology unlike that of any living animal, which were likely used to tear vegetation. They are suggested to have been browsers. The group experienced an increase in body size over time, with Propalorchestes weighing around 150 kilograms (330 lb), while the last known species, Palorchestes azael may have exceeded a ton. They are considered to be members of Diprotodontoidea, most closely related to the also extinct Diprotodontidae. Their closest living relatives are wombats.

Nambaroo is an extinct genus of macropod marsupial from the late Oligocene to the early Miocene of Australia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Diprotodontidae</span> Extinct family of marsupials

Diprotodontidae is an extinct family of large herbivorous marsupials, endemic to Australia and New Guinea during the Oligocene through Pleistocene periods from 28.4 million to 40,000 years ago.

The Macropodidae are an extant family of marsupial with the distinction of the ability to move bipedally on the hind legs, sometimes by jumping, as well as quadrupedally. They are herbivores, but some fossil genera like Ekaltadeta are hypothesised to have been carnivores. The taxonomic affiliations within the family and with other groups of marsupials is still in flux.

<i>Microleo</i> Extinct genus of marsupials

Microleo attenboroughi is a very small species of the Thylacoleonidae family of marsupials from the Early Miocene of Australia, living in the wet forest that dominated Riversleigh about 18 million years ago. The genus Microleo is currently known from a broken palate and two pieces of jaw, containing some teeth and roots that correspond to those found in other species of thylacoleonids. The shape and structure of the blade-like P3 tooth, a premolar, distinguished the species as a new genus. It was found in Early Miocene-aged deposits of the Riversleigh fossil site in Queensland, regarded as one of the most significant palaeontological sites yet discovered, and named for the naturalist David Attenborough in appreciation of his support for its heritage listing. The anatomy of Microleo suggests the genus is basal to all the known thylacoleonids, known as the marsupial lions, although its relative size prompted one discoverer to describe it as the "feisty" kitten of the family.

Riversleigh fauna is the collective term for any species of animal identified in fossil sites located in the Riversleigh World Heritage Area.

Lekaneleo roskellyae is a fossil species of carnivorous marsupial that existed during the early Miocene in Australia. Once allied to the type species of the genus Priscileo, later placed as Wakaleo pitikantensis, "Priscileo" roskellyae was subsequently transferred to its own genus Lekaneleo.


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