Welcome The New (Old) Koala

Did you know that even though there is only one living species of koala, there are 18 extinct ones? Me neither. Actually pretty much no one did, because the 18th only just got announced in the Journal of Systematic Paleontology.

One more koala species, known only from one specimen and extinct for maybe 15 million years is not that exciting, but there are three things that make this particular fossil special.

1) We have a much more intact fossil of its facial area, and so we know it looked a lot more like a modern koala than quite a few others.

2) It appears to have been a nocturnal species with large eyes suggesting a more active lifestyle (although it would be hard to be less active than modern koalas).

3) It has been named Litokoala dicksmithi after the businessman, aviator, environmentalist and philanthropist. Apparently the study of extraordinary fossils deposits at Ravensleigh have benefited greatly from Smith’s patronage. It struck me that this really ought to be a way of extracting money out of Australia’s appallingly uncharitable mega-rich. I can’t remember the stats, but it does seem Australia’s billionaires and close to billionaires are amongst the least charitable in the developed world at least. Perhaps that is a blessing, since many of them if they were going to give would be spending the money on driving people further into poverty. Still, it has to have some appeal to have a species named after you, particularly if you are Clive Palmer and obsessed with dinosaurs. While I don’t think many of these people deserve to be recorded for posterity (Smith being very much an exception) if this is the only way to get some decent funding for Australian taxonomy and palaeontology then maybe it’s the way to go.

About Stephen Luntz

I am a science journalist, specialising in Australian and New Zealand research across all fields of science. My book, Forensics, Fossils and Fruitbats: A Field Guide to Australian Scientists is out now through CSIRO Publishing. I am also a professional returning officer for non-government organisations. I'm very politically active, but generally try to restrict this blog to scientific matters.
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