Australia's Vanished Beasts

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Diprotodon optatum

Diprotodon optatum
This was the first fossil mammal from Australia given a name (in 1838). Meaning "two forward teeth," Diprotodon featured two incisors that jutted straight out from its upper jaw, giving it a buck-toothed look. It may have sported a trunk as well, though experts will never be sure unless they turn up a mummified carcass (like the dessicated remains of giant ground sloths found in caves in the Americas) or perhaps unequivocal rock drawings by ancient Aborigines, who are known to have lived alongside diprotodontids for at least 10,000 years. From its teeth, experts have determined that the plant-eating Diprotodon was a browser. Here, a mother watches helplessly as its infant bogs down in mud on the edge of a drying lake.

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