The Palorchestidae are a family of marsupial megafauna occurring across the eastern Australian continent from the late Oligocene through to their extinction in the Late Pleistocene. The group is known for their odd ‘tapir-like’ crania and distinctive clawed forelimbs, but their appendicular anatomy has never been formally described. We provide the first descriptions of the appendicular skeleton and body mass estimates for three palorchestid species, presenting newly-identified, and in some cases associated, material of mid-Miocene Propalorchestes, Plio-Pleistocene Palorchestes parvus and Pleistocene Palorchestes azael alongside detailed comparisons with extant and fossil vombatiform marsupials. We propose postcranial diagnostic characters at the family, genus and species level. Specialisation in the palorchestid appendicular skeleton evidently occurred much later than in the cranium and instead correlates with increasing body size within the lineage. We conclude that palorchestid forelimbs were highly specialised for the manipulation of their environment in the acquisition of browse, and that they may have adopted bipedal postures to feed. Our results indicate palorchestids were bigger than previously thought, with the largest species likely weighing over 1000 kg. Additionally, we show that P. azael exhibits some of the most unusual forelimb morphology of any mammal, with a uniquely fixed humero ulnar joint unlike any of their marsupial kin, living or extinct.
Bibliographical noteCopyright: © 2019 Richards et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
- functional morphology
- marsupial giants