Environment Tiny but feisty: David Attenborough’s new namesake – Keeping it clever

Tiny but feisty: David Attenborough’s new namesake – Keeping it clever

A University of New South Wales discovery team has unearthed the fossil remains of a new species of tiny marsupial lion that lived in the lush rainforests of northern Australia about 18 million years ago.

They’ve named it Microleo attenboroughi for its diminutive size and to honour the famous broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough. Sir David has supported the Riversleigh World Heritage Area, where the remains were found, describing it as one of the four most important fossil areas in the world.

Microleo shared its lush northern Miocene rainforest habitat with two larger species of marsupial lion, one cat-sized and the other dog-sized. Weighing in at just 600g, this tiny creature most likely prowled the treetops, gobbling insects as well as small vertebrates such as lizards and birds. Scientists identified the new species as a marsupial line based on the distinctive teeth found in the fossilised skull. Intriguingly, although many thousands of bones and teeth have been recovered in the 40 years of research at Riversleigh, only one specimen of this small flesh-eater has been recovered.

Researchers still have many questions about the lifestyle of the little lion – questions that will only be answered if they discover new specimens. By keeping Australia clever, we can find those answers and shed more light on our continent’s remote past.