SYDNEY, Aug. 23 (UPI) -- Researchers at the University of New South Wales have decided to name a new species of marsupial lion after Sir David Attenborough, the world-famous naturalist.
The name of the new species, Microleo attenboroughi, also alludes to its diminutive size. Ancient Australia was once home to several marsupial lion species, all members of the family Thylacoleonidae.
Microleo attenboroughi is the smallest member of the family.
"Microleo attenboroughi would have been more like the cute, but still feisty kitten of the family," researcher Anna Gillespie said in a news release. "It was not lion-size or even bob-cat-size. Weighing only about 600 grams, it was more like a ringtail possum in size."
The new species was identified from a partial skull and teeth fossil. The 18-million-year-old fossils was unearthed from Neville's Garden Site in Riversleigh World Heritage Area of northwestern Queensland, once home to dense jungle.
"Microleo shared these northern Miocene rain forests with two larger species of marsupial lion, one cat-sized and the other dog-sized," Gillespie said. "Although it is possible they competed with one other, the size differences probably means they each specialized on a different size range of prey."
The last of the marsupial lions to go extinct was Thylacoleo carnifex, a lion-sized carnivore that persisted through the Pleistocene.
Like most marsupial carnivores, Microleo attenboroughi boasted a lengthy and deadly sharp knife-like premolar, protruding from in front of its bottom molars.
Scientists described the fossil and the new species in the latest issue of the journal Paleontologia Electronica.