Extinct koala to be named after explorer Dick Smith

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Sydney, May 29 (IANS) A newly discovered extinct species of koala that lived in northern Australia about 20 million years ago has been named after Australian entrepreneur, philanthropist and explorer Dick Smith.

University of NSW researchers shared their discovery in a statement released Wednesday.

“We chose the name to thank Smith for his long-term financial support of Australian science, in particular, of fossil research at the Riversleigh World Heritage Area in north western Queensland,” said lead researcher Karen Black.

Dubbed Litokoala dicksmithi, the small ancient koala, found in Riversleigh, is one of 18 known extinct koala species. There is only one surviving species of koala living today, reported Xinhua.

While another extinct species found in the same area has been described as “possum-like”, the newly discovered koala appears to more closely resemble the modern species — as shown by an “exceptionally well-preserved” partial skull.

At about a third of the size of living koalas, weighing about three to four kg, Litokoala dicksmithi lived in rainforest canopies, eating plants and possibly fruit rather than the exclusive eucalyptus diet favoured by modern koalas.

Large eye sockets may suggest that this koala was nocturnal, said Black, possibly with better eyesight than their contemporaries.

“Combined with its small body size, this suggests that Litokoala dicksmithi was a more active, agile tree climber than its sleepy, relatively sedentary, cousin that we know,” she added.

The researchers say that the onset of dryer conditions in Australia about 15 million years ago led to the contraction of rainforest habitats and may have contributed to the little koala’ s extinction.

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