Extinct giants

About Australia and Tasmania

When the first humans came to Australia 65,000 years ago, they found astonishing giant creatures. It was not just some of the marsupials that had grown to unusual sizes, but echidnas, flightless birds and lizards too. A few millennia later, these “megafauna” had become extinct.

Diprotodon optatum (c) Jan Sovák Diprotodon optatum (c) Jan Sovák

Diprotodon optatum
With a height of 1.8 m and weighing over 2.7 tons, it was the largest marsupial known so far. Its closest relatives include today’s wombats and, like them, it was herbivorous. It gathered in herds, whilst males and females lived separately for at least part of the year. It became extinct 25–46 thousand years ago.

Marsupial Lion
It lived in Australia about 30–46 thousand years ago. Measuring 70 cm at the withers it weighed between 100 and 130 kg, sometimes as much as 160 kg. At the time, it was the largest carnivorous mammal in Australia, and no other took its place afterwards. It had tremendous bite power and massive retractable claws on its toes. It most likely hunted giant kangaroos and diprotodons, which it ambushed.

Thylacoleo carnifex (c) Jan Sovák

Varanus priscus
It was a giant relative of today’s Komodo dragons. It is estimated that it may have measured over 4.5 m, making it the largest land lizard ever. It is believed that it had a poisonous bite and quite possibly fed on humans. It became extinct about 50,000 years ago.

Varanus priscus (c) Jan Sovák

Short-Faced Kangaroo
This remarkable kangaroo grew to a height of around 2 m and weighed 240 kg, i.e. almost 3 times more than today’s largest kangaroos. It had an extremely flattened face and only one claw on each of its hind legs. What is more, it may have run on two legs instead of hopping. It fed on the leaves of trees and shrubs and used its front paws with hooked claws to bring the branches to its mouth.

Procoptodon goliah (c) Jan Sovák

Stirton’s Thunderbird
It is one of the largest birds that ever lived – it reached a height of over 3 m and weighed half a ton. Its wings were stunted, but it was a passable runner. It is not clear whether it was a predator or had a plant-based diet. Nevertheless, its relatives appear to be ducks or geese.

Dromornis stirtoni (c) Jan Sovák