Family Diprotodontidae

This major group of Australian marsupials includes mostly herbivorous animals. Diprotodonts have a single pair of lower incisors, which point forward. They have between 1 and 3 pairs of upper incisors, no canines, and a long gap (diastema) between their incisors and cheek teeth, as in rodents. The second and third toes of their hindfeet are greatly reduced in size and are bound within a single sheath of tissue — a specialization used for grooming.

Living relatives of the diprotodonts include the familiar koalas and kangaroos, as well as the phalangers (Australian opossums) and wombats.

name: Diprotodon time: Pleistocene locality: Australia (South Australia) size: 10 ft/3 m long

The grazing marsupials reached their greatest size in Diprotodon and its relatives. In appearance Diprotodon was rather like a rhinoceros-sized wombat. It probably fed on a particular species of salt-bush which it could scrape out of the ground with its paws. Remains of this bush have been found in the stomach cavities of several fossil specimens.

The body, head and neck were massive, and the limbs strong. The feet were plantigrade, or flat-footed, and the weight was borne on the palms and the soles, as in a bear, rather than on the toes. Unlike that of other mammals, the outer ("little") toe of this animal was the longest — a peculiar feature with no apparent function.

Complete Diprotodon skeletons have been found preserved in lake muds. In the dry climates in which these animals lived, salt crusts may have formed over the local lakes of the open landscape. The heavy Diprotodon would easily have fallen through and become entombed in the mud beneath.

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