25-million-year-old fossil of an eagle that hunted koalas discovered in Australia

(CNN) — Scientists confirmed the discovery of a nearly complete fossil of a 25-million-year-old eagle that flew over South Australia and fed on koala ancestors – an incredibly rare find for how well preserved it is, experts say.
The newly discovered species, Archaehierax sylvestris, is one of the oldest eagle-like raptors in the world, according to a study published this Monday in the journal Historical Biology. Paleontologists at Flinders University in Adelaide unearthed the fossil in March 2016 at a remote rural cattle station during a research trip to Lake Pinpa in South Australia.

Archaehierax It is the largest known eagle to live in Australia during the Oligocene period, dating from about 33.9 million to 23 million years ago, according to the study. It was smaller and slimmer than the wedge-tailed eagle, Australia’s largest bird of prey, according to the Western Australian Museum.

With legs almost 15 centimeters long, the eagle would have had the ability to grab large prey. Scientists claim it would have hunted an extinct species of koala, which was roughly the same size as current ones, as well as possums and other tree-climbing animals, according to the study.

A close-up of the Archaehierax sylvestris fossil as it appeared in the field.

“The largest marsupial predators of the time were the size of a small dog or a large cat, so the Archaehierax He was definitely the boss, “Ellen Mather, study author and Flinders University postdoctoral candidate, said in a statement.

The partial fossil skeleton consists of 63 bones, which makes the Archaehierax sylvestris in one of the best conserved species found in the surroundings of Lake Pinpa. The integrity of the skeleton allowed the researchers to determine its place in the eagle’s family tree, Mather said.

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“It shows a number of traits that are not seen among modern hawks and eagles,” he said. “It seems to have been its own unique branch of the eagle family.”

The fossils reveal that the wings of the species were short for their size, making them quite agile and allowing them to dodge trees while hunting. Its legs were relatively long, which would have given it considerable reach.

Scientists do not know why or when the species became extinct.

Australia’s environment during the Oligocene was very different from today. Lake Pinpa, where the fossil was found, was once a lush ecosystem covered in trees and forests, according to the study. Today it is arid, dry and desolate.

Flinders University paleontologist Warren Handley at an excavation site near Lake Pinpa in South Australia.

Trevor Worthy, an associate professor at Flinders University and a co-author of the study, said in the statement that it is rare to find even a fossilized eagle bone. This is likely for a number of reasons, Mather added, including that bird bones can be quite brittle, making them easier to break.

“Having most of the skeleton available is very exciting, especially considering its age,” Worthy said.

Researchers have made several fossil discoveries in Australia over the years, shedding light on the diversity of species that roamed the Earth eons ago.

Scientists recently discovered that there were a kind of flying “dragon” that flew over Australia 105 million years ago. The pterosaur was described by researchers as a “fearsome beast” that preyed on young dinosaurs. In June, scientists confirmed that the 2007 discovery of a fossilized skeleton in the state of Queensland was the largest dinosaur in Australia. Nicknamed “Cooper,” the dinosaur was about two stories tall and as long as a basketball court.

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