An illustration of the kangaroo.

The mountains of Papua New Guinea were once home to kangaroos with ‘unique teeth’

A primitive kangaroo has been classified as a new species, after reanalysis of fossil jaws and teeth found in the remote highlands of Papua New Guinea in the 1970s.

The extinct The animal is believed to have been a rainforest browser, descended from a primitive lineage that migrated from Australia to New Guinea between 5 and 8 million years ago.

This is evident from the results of a study published today in Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia

the fossils were originally discovered during an expedition led by archaeologist Mary-Jane Mountain in the 1970s.

Then in 1983 — by then-paleontologist and PhD student Tim Flannery — they were classified as belonging to a species in the genus protemnodon

protemnodon is a genus of extinct megafauna that lived in Australia and New Guinea.

The last species in the genus is thought to have become extinct in Australia about 42,000 years ago and was a cousin of today’s eastern gray and red kangaroos.

Kerr traveled to Port Moresby to get a 3D scan of the jaw bones.Delivered: Flinders University

But researchers at Flinders University reclassified the PNG fossils as belonging to a new genus of kangaroo, after analyzing 3D scans, they took the jawbones and teeth, which are in the National Museum and Art Gallery of Papua New Guinea.

Based on some very unique features of the teeth and jaw, the researchers propose that the kangaroo is now known as: nombe nombe — after the Nombe rock shelter in PNG’s Simbu province, where it was found, according to the study’s lead author, PhD candidate Isaac Kerr of Flinders University.

“In the case of the Nombe, they have these funny curved lophids or combs on their molars, which show that they were doing something very different from what the protemnodon were doing,” said Mr Kerr.

“There were [features] You don’t get that in the more derivative kangaroos like the gray and the red.”

A kangaroo jumping away from forest fire.
The ancestors of modern kangaroos originated in Australia and spread to New Guinea.ABC News: James Carmody

Kangaroos originated in Australia and are thought to have moved to New Guinea when the landmasses periodically merged into what is now the Torres Strait, according to Mark Eldridge, the Australian Museum’s group manager of terrestrial vertebrates.

“The radiation center for kangaroos is Australia, the oldest fossils are all from Australia and the greatest diversity of kangaroos is still in Australia,” said Dr. Eldridge, who was not involved in the investigation.

“As the continent drifted north and New Guinea was pushed up as a landmass, much of Australia’s fauna spread to New Guinea.”

So what did? nombe nombe looks like?

Often it’s just fragments of skeletons that taxonomists have to work with when trying to figure out a species’ identity, said Dr. Eldridge.

“In paleontology, jaws and teeth in particular are very robust and don’t break easily, so they’re often what survives.”

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