Megafauna – Meet the amazing ancestors to our unique Australian animals!

By Reptile Encounters/12 September 2014

Megafauna stamp image

Ever wonder why Australian animals are so unique? So different to those found elsewhere in the world? It’s because we’ve been an island (a petri dish, if you will) for the better part of the last 50 million years and species have been able to evolve in isolation. But where did they first come from?

The oldest native mammals of Australia descended from animals that were on the continent when it separated from Antarctica, and as we shifted north, other species arrived from Southeast Asia. While bats had the luxury of air travel, our beloved dingo was a boat-born arrival (and perhaps, a tasty snack for long sea voyages), gracing Australian shores around 5,000 years ago.

Marsupial fossils found in Antarctica suggest that the 120 or so varieties currently inhabiting Australia evolved from those early creatures – decidedly bigger creatures at that. Approximately 1.6 million years ago Megafauna roamed at large, and are even thought to have co-existed with humans for at least 30,000 years.

The three-ton Diprotodon (a hippopotamus sized wombat-koala hybrid, thought to have inspired the legend of the Bunyip) is the largest know marsupial ever to have lived, closely related to Phascolonus gigas, the giant wombat (weighing in at 200kg). Arguably the strangest looking would have been Procoptodon goliah, the ten-foot gorilla-faced kangaroo, but I’m sure Genyornis newtoni, the ostrich-sized duck could have given ancient Skippy the hop for his money.

Reptiles loomed in full force too. Varanus Priscus, the giant, carnivorous goanna grew to as long as 7m, as did Quinkana, the terrestrial crocodile. And at 10m long, Liasis dubudingala was the largest Australian snake ever known.

While the Megafauna reign has long subsided, when you consider the great white shark (reaching over 6m and 3,000kg), monitor lizard (some more than 2.5m) or everyday saltwater croc (weighing in at around 770kg) still roaming about, you can’t deny that they’re pretty darn mega. What do you think?