"Malleodectes mirabilis was a bizarre mammal, as strange in its own way as a koala or kangaroo," University of New South Wales professor Mike Archer, the lead author of a study published in the journal Scientific Reports on Friday, said in a press statement.
The researchers claim the animal was a cousin of contemporary animals such as the Tasmanian devil and were in existence around 15 million years ago. Tracings of the animal were found in the Riversleigh World Heritage Fossil Site near Queensland, where puzzling remains have been found by the researchers in the past too.
The main traces of the animal came in dental form. But now, "details of the canine, premolar and molar teeth of this specimen have enabled its relationships to other Australian marsupials to be determined with reasonable confidence," according to Dr. Archer. The team has declared the escargot-loving creature its own family, Malleodectes mirabilis: The Marvelous Hammer Biter.
The major clue which prompted the scientists to declare the animal its own family occurred when they found the portion of a skull from a young member of the marsupial group in the cave deposit.
"The juvenile malleodectid could have been clinging to the back of its mother while she was hunting for snails in the rocks around the cave's entrance, and may have fallen in and then been unable to climb back out," Professor Suzanne Hand, research group member, said in a statement.
"Many other animals that lived in this lush forest met a similar fate with their skeletons accumulating one on top of another for perhaps thousands of years, until the cave became filled with paleontological treasures," Dr. Hand added.