Giant pre-historic kangaroo had ‘crushing bite’ and koala-like skull

An extinct species of giant kangaroo had a "crushing bite" and a koala-like skull, new research has found.

The short-nosed kangaroo weighed almost three times as much as a modern grey kangaroo.

Researchers from the University of Arkansas revealed that short-nosed kangaroos had a powerful bite that allowed them to chew through tough branches, stems and mature leaves.

The findings, published in scientific publication PLOS ONE, indicated the S. occidentalis evolved in such a way to survive on tough, poor-quality vegetation, particularly in times of drought.

Dr Rex Mitchell, who carried out the research at the University of Arkansas and University of New England, generated digital models of CT scans to show the skull of the short-faced kangaroo would have a similar skull shape to that of a bear's.

Dr Rex Mitchell with one of his digital models of the skull. Credit: University of Arkansas

"Compared to the kangaroos of today, the extinct,short-faced kangaroos of ice age Australia would be a strange sight to behold," he said.

"The skull of the extinct kangaroo studied here differs from those of today's kangaroos in many of the ways a giant panda's skull differs from other bears.

"So, it seems that the strange skull of this kangaroo was, in a functional sense, less like a modern-day kangaroo's and more like a giant panda's."

A digital comparison of the short-faced kangaroo against a koala and a kangaroo today. Credit: University of Arkansas

The short-nosed kangaroo would have weighed about 400 pounds (modern kangaroos weight about 150 pounds), and had long muscular arms with a large heads shaped like a koala's.

Their short face offered more efficiency for chewing, a feature usually found in species that can bite harder into more resistant foods.

“All this bone would have taken a lot of energy to produce and maintain, so it makes sense that such robust skulls wouldn’t have evolved unless they really needed to bite hard into at least some more resistant foods that were important in their diets,” Dr Mitchell said.

The short-nosed kangaroo would have been twice the size of its modern-day counterpart. Credit: AP

This differs from the diet of a modern-day kangaroo, which lives on a variety of ferns, flowers, grass and leaves.

The marsupials are known for their signature hopping, but their prehistoric predecessors walked on their hind legs instead.

The short-nosed kangaroo was extinct by the end of the Late Pleistocene Period - between around 126,000 and 5,000 years ago.