Sunday, May 15, 2011

Thylacine

Alas, we come now to the end of Marsupial Week. Our final feature is the Thylacine, sometimes known as the Tasmanian Tiger or Tasmanian Wolf. This extinct carnivore is another great example of convergent evolution; because it lived in a place devoid of placental mammalian predators, if was able to fill that niche and closely resemble a dog despite being completely unrelated.

Benjamin, the last captive Thylacine
Unfortunately, Thylacines are now extinct, most likely due to competition with introduced predators and human hunting. They disappeared from the Australian mainland around 200 years ago, and the last examples of the species died in captivity during the 1930s. There have been several sightings in the wild ever since, but none of these claims were official and confirmed.

When they lived, Thylacines were the largest carnivorous Marsupials. They fed off of smaller animals, typically other marsupials, and hunted alone or in pairs during the nighttime. After Europeans arrived in Australia, Thylacines were said to cause the deaths of countless livestock. It is now believed that many of these claims were exaggerated and that the species was made an unfortunate scapegoat. The resulting hunting contributed to their extinction.

Captive Thylacines
Thylacines, like all marsupials, had pouches. But did you know that both the females and males had them? Females used their back facing pouches to conceal and care for their young. Males used theirs as a cover for their external genitalia.

One thing I found especially interesting about this extinct creature is that scientists have actually tried to resurrect the species from the DNA left behind in museum specimens. While the original project was scrapped in 2006, it was announced in 2008 that some gene sequences were replicated in mice. The success of that project can help us to learn much more about this, and possibly other, extinct species.

Status :  Extinct since the 1930s
Location : Australia, Tasmania, and New Guinea
Size : Shoulder height 24in (60cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Infraclass : Marsupialia
Order : Dasyuromorphia - Family : †Thylacinidae -- Genus : †Thylacinus -- Species : †T. cynocephalus

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