Fossil of a Prehistoric Creature Dubbed "Echidnapus" Discovered in Australia

Fossil of a Prehistoric Creature Dubbed "Echidnapus" Discovered in Australia


Paleontologists have unearthed fossils of a bizarre creature that they believe roamed Australia in prehistoric times. The fossilized fragments of the animal's jawbone were found in northern New South Wales alongside evidence of several other ancient and now extinct monotreme species.

The scientists have decided to name their find "echidnapus" (official name Opalios splendens) due to its resemblance to both the platypus and the echidna. And to this day, it is the only known egg-laying mammal in the world. According to the authors of the study, it serves as confirmation of the hypothesis that Australia was once an "era of monotremes" - when an incredibly rare species of animals was numerous and dominant. "It's like discovering a whole new civilization," said lead author Professor Tim Flannery.

The most amazing thing about this story is that the fossils were found 25 years ago by paleontologist Elizabeth Smith and her daughter Clytie while sorting through opal mine waste. The specimens, estimated to be around 100 million years old,were donated to the Australian Museum. There they lay forgotten in a desk drawer for a quarter of a century until Professor Flannery stumbled upon them by accident a couple of years ago.

Some of the bones belonged to the previously discovered Steropodon galmani, a shorter, blunt-snouted, and toothed ancestor of the platypus. But other fragments were unfamiliar. From them, Dr. Flannery and his team found evidence of three previously unknown monotreme species.

According to Professor Chris Helgen, Director of the Australian Museum Research Institute, these animals had a combination of features never before seen in either living or fossil monotremes. "Opalios splendens' general anatomy was probably like a platypus, but its jaws and snout were more like an echidna," he said.

The total number of monotreme species that inhabited Lightning Ridge, which in ancient times was a cold, wet forest bordering a vast inland sea, reaches six. "They show the world that long before Australia became a land of marsupial mammals, it was a land of furry egg-laying monotremes," Smith says. At the same time, scientists acknowledge that further research and excavations in the region are needed to provide more definitive answers to the many paleontological questions.

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