In an exciting twist of time, a recent citizen science program for Capricorn Caves’ Big Science Adventure unearthed a remarkable find – a fossil tooth from an ancient rainforest koala! This discovery provides a fascinating glimpse into the prehistoric past of these iconic Australian creatures who once lived here at the caves.
The highlight of the day emerged when the final group of fossil hunters that included the keen eye of Benjamyn Willson, who made an exceptional discovery. Ben was actively exploring the dig pits alongside his family when he uncovered the rare treasure.
Only one other specimen of an ancient rainforest koala has been found in the deposits, therefore, this may be from the same species or another unnamed one.
Palaeontologists, Dr Scott Hocknull and Rochelle Lawrence, who were volunteering for Big Science Adventure as part of National Science Week, are meticulously examining the fossil to uncover its story and verify the identity of which species it belonged to.
This tooth holds invaluable clues about the habits and environment of ancient koalas. Their dedication to verifying its authenticity underscores the significance of this discovery.
In the words of Dr Scott, “The koala fossil is about 360,000 years old and is part of a very rare component of the rainforest fauna. But what it shows is that until very recently koalas in Australia were known by more than just the one living species.
Down the road from Capricorn Caves at Mt Etna, there is fossil evidence of the modern koala we know and love (Phascolarctos cinereus), the extinct giant Koala (Phascolartos stirtoni) and an extinct rainforest koala (Invictokoala monticola).
This new tooth may come from the extinct rainforest species, or another extinct species. Sadly, the giant and rainforest koalas were driven to extinction in the area when changes in the climate occurred around 280,000 years ago.”
Many other exciting discoveries were made on the day, including some bones from the extinct land-dwelling crocodile (Quinkana), the giant tree-kangaroo (Bohra) and the Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis). Another discovery was what looks to be the partial limb bone from a giant extinct echidna.
As the koala tooth fossil undergoes verification by Dr Scott & Rochelle, enthusiasts young and old are left with a sense of wonder about the creatures that once roamed our land.
Stay tuned as we unravel the secrets locked within this ancient relic and celebrate the power of discovery that the Capricorn Caves continues to embody!