Drop Bears and Australian Megafauna
Posted on the 15th April 2012
Most children who’ve walked in the Australian bush with an adult, and some foreign tourists too, would have been alerted to the danger of drop bears. These supposedly deadly creatures lay in wait in trees until unsuspecting prey walk beneath. Then they drop from the tree and attack the prey in a vicious manner.
It’s a good story and keeps kids alert in the bush, but drop bears don’t exist........... now.
But once a very similar creature did exist and the story of the ferocious hunter may have been passed down orally from the first Aboriginal people who populated Australia over 40,000 years ago. When these Aboriginal people arrived in Australia, the continent was populated with a range of mega fauna. Mega fauna are large animals. They once populated most of the continents on earth, but today exist only as a relatively few animals like elephants, rhinoceros and whales.
Like the animals which were present before Europeans arrived in Australia, the mega fauna consisted of reptiles and marsupial mammals. The most commonly known of today was the Diprotodon.
The fossilised remains of a Diprotodon
The Diprotodon was similar to a present day wombat, but the size of a hippopotamus. It weighed around 2.5 ton, was 2 metres tall and 3 metres long. Like all marsupials the females had a pouch to carry its young. It lived in forests, woodlands, and grassland where it grazed on vegetation. It could have been preyed upon by Megalania.
Megalania was a lizard about the size of a Crocodile. With a weight of approximately 950 kg and length up to seven metres in length it would have been a most formidable predator which probably waited near water for passing prey. The Megalania consumed almost everything of its prey, including fur, feathers, and bones. A 3 metre tall kangaroo would have made a nice meal for a megalania.
A depiction of how Procoptodon goliah would have appeared
The Procoptodon goliah was indeed a 3 metre tall kangaroo. Although it had the same basic features as the kangaroos which live today, it was much stockier and had a short stubby face. It weighed 200kg, about 2.5 times the largest kangaroo alive today, the Big Red. It lived in similar habitats, ate the same sorts of grasses and raised its young in a pouch just like current kangaroos. But unlike today, it may have had the threat of drop bear like creatures, Thylacoleo carnifex.
A model of what Thylacoleo carnifex may have looked like
Thylacoleo carnifex weren’t bears at all, just like today’s koalas are not bears, but marsupials. They weighed around 125 kilograms and had the size of a modern day leopard, but were much more robust. For their size, they had the most powerful jaw of any animal alive or extinct. This carnivorous beast could climb trees and probably hunted like leopards, pouncing from the trees and disembowelling its victim with large opposable claws.
So what happened to Australia’s mega fauna? There are a few theories. Tim Flannery, eminent scientist and former Australian of the year, put forward his blitzkrieg theory in his excellent history of the evolution of the Australian continent and its plants and animals, The Future Eaters. He proposed that the arrival of humans who hunted the mega fauna led to their extinction. Other scientists hotly dispute this and claim that climate change caused their demise.
I think it was probably a combination of the two. But whatever the cause, the mega fauna in Australia all died by around 30,000 years ago. So you don’t have to worry about drop bears when walking through the Aussie bush.
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by Andrew, 6:18 pm - 12th Aug 2012
No, the AU Megafauna is alive and well, in hiding, sometimes seen and stated to be Cryptids.