reconstruction of Australian tropical megafauna

Tropical megafauna

Discover the supersized creatures that roamed ancient Queensland 40,000 years ago and what drove them to extinction.

Life and death 40,000 years ago

Queensland Museum paleontologists have announced the discovery of new extinct Australian megafauna that lived until 40,000 years ago in tropical northern Australia. In 2008, Barada Barna, the area’s Traditional Owners were conducting a cultural heritage survey of BHP’s mine at South Walker Creek near Mackay when they discovered fossilised bones.

Queensland Museum palaeontologist Dr Scott Hocknull identified that these were bone fragments from giant extinct megafauna.

Recognising the significance of this discovery, a research team led by Queensland Museum has been systematically excavating the sites.

The research concluded that extreme environmental change was the most likely cause of their extinction. The findings published in the open access scientific journal, Nature Communications outlines how the successive loss of water flow, intensified drying, increased burning and vegetation change created the conditions to drive the extinction of at least 13 species of super-sized megafauna, including four reptilian mega predators, a marsupial 'lion' and the world's largest wombats and kangaroos.

Read the full publication.

These discoveries, combined with advanced digital technologies such as 3D scanning, 3D modelling and computer analysis will continue to help find answers to mysteries surrounding their life and extinction. These rare and fascinating insights into the past allow scientists to better understand the present and the impacts of a changing climate on Australia’s living ecosystems.

Megafauna of South Walker Creek

Extinction of Australia's megafauna

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painting of megafauna

What are megafauna?

Megafauna are giant animals usually weighing over 44 kilograms (kg). Most megafauna are now extinct (no longer exist) and were closely related to living species of animals we see today. You have probably heard of the more commonly known megafauna species, like the saber-toothed cat and woolly mammoth from North America.

However, Australia is unique with its own megafauna ranging from huge and sometimes strange marsupials (mammals with a pouch), like the giant sloth bear-like Palorchestes to very large monitor lizards like the giant goanna, Megalania.

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research location in the field

A crime scene of the past - investigating tropical Ice Age megafauna

In 2008, an extraordinary discovery was made at South Walker Creek, located near the town of Nebo, west of Mackay in Queensland, Australia. Traditional owners of the area, the Barada Barna people, were conducting a cultural heritage survey for the South Walker Creek Mine when they came across some interesting bones. These bones were not the usual white colour, like those of cows you find in the paddock, nor were they light in weight or becoming brittle from exposure to the sun. They were dark coloured, a little heavier than usual and quite solid in form. The bones were fossils!

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Project DIG team in the field

Discovering the world's largest kangaroo - Part 1: In the field

As the weather begins to cool, the ‘dig’ season starts for us (palaeontologists) as we venture off along the coast and into the outback heart of Queensland. Over the last ten years we have been investigating a series of fossil sites at South Walker Creek located near the town of Nebo, west of Mackay. It is here that we are finding some of Australia’s last tropical ice age megafauna.

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Discovering the world's largest kangaroo - Part 2: In the lab

The giant kangaroo tibia (shinbone) found at the megafauna fossil sites of South Walker Creek, travelled safely back to the Queensland Museum’s Geosciences collection. The specimen is treated like evidence for a case (fossil evidence!) and is processed through a series of stages from field collection (Part 1) and preparation, to research and conservation.

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What is Project DIG?

Project DIG is a partnership between Queensland Museum, BHP and BMA to transform how we store, explore and share our collections and research with communities worldwide.

Stay up to date with Project DIG #ProjectDIGQM #qldmuseum.

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