for National Geographic News in Wellington, New Zealand
An extinct marsupial lion that once roamed Australia is the most efficient killer ever known, researchers say.
A digital 3-D simulation has shown that Thylacoleo carnifex—"pouched lion executioner"—could deliver a bite far more lethal than any other known carnivore living or extinct.
Scientists have suspected the creature packed an incredibly strong bite for several years, but they only recently found evidence to confirm their theory.
The researchers compared the lion's bite force and killing methodology with that of a modern-day African lion.
They built digital models of both species' skulls based on CAT-scan X-rays.
"It goes a step further than most models," said study lead author Stephen Wroe, a research fellow at the University of New South Wales, Australia.
"It's high enough resolution for us to assign different material properties to different densities of bone," he said.
The models also account for the arrangement of muscles, allowing the scientists to map the distribution of stress and strain in the skull in considerable detail.
"The bottom line is, it's a far more sophisticated, and closer, approximation of the real thing than you would ever get."
The study appeared recently in the Journal of Zoology.
Far More Murderous
Various sorts of "digital crash tests" revealed that the lion employed a technique far more murderous than present-day lions, Wroe said.
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES