SYDNEY, Australia – Before there were cuddly koalas, hordes of flesh-eating kangaroos, "demon ducks" and marsupial lions roamed Australia's Outback, according to recent fossil discoveries by paleontologists.
A team of researchers from the University of New South Wales working in the eastern state of Queensland made the discoveries in three new fossil deposits during a recent two-week dig.
Many of the fossils are older than 24 million years; one of the deposits is thought to contain fossils up to 500 million years old, according to Prof. Mike Archer, the university's dean of science.
A saber-toothed kangaroo and a giant 10-foot-tall, 881-pound bird scientists nicknamed the "demon duck of doom" were among the largely unknown species uncovered in the dig, Archer told reporters Wednesday.
"They were galloping kangaroos, they didn't hop," Archer said. "They were also far more muscly than the kangaroos we know, with sharp saber-like incisors and powerful forelimbs to help rip and tear their prey."
The remains of ancient tree-climbing crocodiles and marsupial lions were also uncovered in the rocks.
Archer said many of the animals were similar or related to others elsewhere in the world, but had evolved uniquely in Australia. Hundreds have no living representative.
"They are that bizarre. There are literally, probably in the order of about 500 extinct creatures in these rocks," he said.
Archer said a detailed study of the fossils was expected to provide answers about the evolution of climate and creatures in the past, as well as about the directions they might follow over thousands of years to come.
"The biggest excitement is what's going to happen over the next year in the labs as the rocks dissolve and the treasure inside emerges," he said.