The Diprotodon is famous for being the largest marsupial to ever exist. Also known as the giant wombat, this animal was massive and was much longer than even the tallest NBA players. When measured from head to toe, this species is estimated to have grown over 13 feet long.
With the fossils that have been discovered, scientists were able to estimate the average height of a Diprotodon, which is between 9 and 11 feet. However, scientists estimate them to be about 20% larger than the reconstructed skeletons.
The closest relatives of the Diprotodon today are wombats and koalas. Diprotodon towered over many modern-day animals and was around the size of a car. These marsupials became extinct around 40,000 years ago. There is still a lot that has been discovered about this extinct giant.
What is a Diprotodon?
The Diprotodon is also known as the giant wombat and looks very similar to the modern-day wombat. Like their Australian cousins, this mammal is quadrupedal, meaning they walk and run on all fours. Because of this, their average standing height when on all fours is only about 5 ½ feet. The average weight of this animal was around 3,000 lbs, with the largest ones estimated at around 7,000 lbs.
Living up to its name, the giant wombat had a very large belly due to a combination of eating large amounts of vegetation and its slow metabolism. Their skull was quite large as well.
Animals like the giant wombat had a substantial effect on their habitats and predators. Because of their enormous size, these herbivores ate tons of vegetation which largely affected the growth range of forest and woody plants where they lived. The existence of these large herbivores meant that their predators had to evolve and grow larger as well to continue to be effective hunters.
Discoveries and Extinction
The first Diprotodon fossils were discovered in the 1830s, and since no prominent scientists were around at the time, their large bones were believed to be that of elephants, rhinos, or hippos. 8 years later, the discovered fossils were named Diprotodon by biologist Richard Owen, and he noted the teeth closely reassembled that of the wombat.
The Diprotodon was abundant on the Australian continent during the Pleistocene Epoch (between 11,700 to 12 million years ago). However, like all species, this mammal was not immune to extinction events. Along with all other animals over 220 lbs, they became extinct during the Quaternary extinction event. The exact cause of extinction is unknown due to issues with dating Australian fossil sites. A worsening climate and overhunting by the first Aboriginal Australians is the current estimate of what caused these super-sized mammals to disappear.
Where did the Diprotodon Live?
In Australia, this species lived in savannahs, open woodlands, and hilly habitats. This species was absent from hilly, and woodland coastal regions in Australia. It lived together in herds, and mass migrated together. Diprotodon traveled together like elephants and moved around the different habitats Australia offered.
Radioactive dating methods used to date the fossils of this animal showed they lived around 300,000 years ago and also helped figure out that they were a migrating species. They were like marsupials of today in Australia and also roamed to find food. Evidence suggests the Diprotodon migrated from site to site to follow the rainfall and went where vegetation is most abundant. Their migrations routes were the same each year, and they followed the most effective route.
The Diprotodon Diet
Despite their large size, Diprotodons were herbivorous browsers. It is believed they fed on shrubs, grass, and other similar vegetation. Because of their extremely large size, Diprotodon is estimated to have consumed 220 to 330 lbs of vegetation daily.
The name given to this animal translates to “two protruding teeth” because of the large incisors that came of their skull like a rabbit. This marsupial’s large incisors grew to be up to 12 inches, and never stopped growing. The molars and premolars of this animal had ridges in them, which helped them gnaw on, and shred plant material.
Animals that Lived With The Diprotodon
During its time, the Diprotodon was a tough animal for even the fiercest predators to take out. Large ancient Australian predators that preyed on this animal included the Thylacoleo, as their teeth marks were found in Diprotodon fossils. The giant extinct crocodilian Quinkana, the giant monitor lizards of Australia, and early indigenous people also likely preyed on Diprotodon.
Australia was filled with lots of megafaunas during the period the Diprotodon was alive, like giant birds, snakes, and even kangaroos that grew over 8 feet tall. Fossils are the best way we have to research and identify the ancient animals of the past. There are many amazing animals like the Diprotodon that lived throughout Earth’s history, with much to learn about them.
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- Megafauna Australia , Available here: https://australian.museum/learn/australia-over-time/megafauna/
- Giant Wombat , Available here: https://www.science.org/content/article/giant-wombatlike-creatures-migrated-across-australia-300000-years-ago
- 10 diprtodon facts , Available here: https://www.thoughtco.com/facts-about-diprotodon-the-giant-wombat-1093327