Tasmanian Tiger or Marsupial Wolf? New Insights on the Extinct Thylacine

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Thylacine in a zoo, c. 1930

Both its nicknames reflect the fact that the thylacine was an awesome creature — one that makes the human race kick itself for helping to drive such animals to extinction — but new research suggests that the “Tasmanian tiger”/“marsupial wolf” was indeed more tiger-like than wolfish.

(More on TIME.com: Saving the Tasmanian Devils)

The last captive thylacinus cynocephalus (“dog-headed pouched one”) died in Tasmania’s Hobart Zoo in 1936. Brown University researchers, who have published their new paper in the journal Biology Letters, compared the bones of the extinct Australian carnivore to those of other meat-eaters, including pumas, wolves, and Tasmanian devils. The analysis provided the scientists with a better understanding of how the thylacine hunted its prey. Apparently, it’s all in the elbow, which shows that the animal was more of an ambush predator — like cats — than one that chased its food — like wolves, hunting in packs. Australian Geographic explains:

 the thylacine elbow joint allowed it to twist its arm in different directions, making it easier to wrestle and kill prey at close range or in a surprise attack. The arms of dog-like species, such as dingoes or wolves, are far less flexible and are usually fixed in a palm-down position, making it easier to run long distances to wear down a target.

The BBC notes there are exceptions: cheetahs run after their prey; foxes, a dog-like species, ambush. As for the thylacine, “I don’t think there’s anything like it around today,” Christine Janis, the paper’s co-author, tells the BBC. “It’s sort of like a cat-like fox.”

We may no longer get to see the dog-headed striped marsupial roam the planet (there have been reported sightings since 1936, though none confirmed) but that’s all the more reason to save the wolves, tigers, Tasmanian devils and other species that, however precariously, still do exist.

3 comments
GoranRanGo
GoranRanGo

Of countless ways we define our own inner groups skin color is probably the most naive one. Have these babies been equally exposed to different races and still exhibited this behavior? Or have they been playing with babies of their own race and then exposed to different race for this study. You are drawing very strong conclusion based on a questionable study. 

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

Humanity evolved in tribes.  With millions of years of competition and reinforcement of the tribal paradigm, of COURSE we look at "outers" - those outside our tribe - differently.  This is an evolved survival trait, and one of the reasons humanity will eventually destroy itself.  It's in our genes to distrust those outside of our "tribe", and if the opportunity arises, distrust always leads to violence among groups.

Yes, yes, we're an "intelligent" species.  But most of us aren't actually "intelligent".  Less than 30%, in fact (those who are 110 IQ or more).  And the intelligent don't breed as often as the other side of the coin, which on average decreases the proportion of smart to not so smart people.  Stupidity leads to actions that are contrary to survival - especially given the levels of destruction we can achieve through the technology we have these days.  Even the intelligent can do stupid things, after all.

Most people can actually overcome the instinctive distrust of others in some way, but by and large, it's still there even with the most refined of sensibilities.  And there is a gigantic majority of people globally who have no reason, desire or motivation to look beyond their own interests for anything.  I've never seen any evidence of loyalty outside of the tribe.

The ONLY way we'll survive is for each of us to see humanity as a whole as part of our tribe.  But that's never going to happen because we're genetically and instinctively disposed to thinking otherwise.  Hence, humanity as a whole will die off (I expect in the relatively near future) due to self-inflicted wounds.  Some may survive for a while, but the magnitude of our ability to destroy the planet means there's very little chance that any remnant of higher life, let alone humanity, will make it.  By and large, complex life will probably have to start over here.

Homogeneity of tribe or the death of our species - and we're mostly too stupid to pick what's in our best interests.

iamdave
iamdave

How about a link to the research? You know, so I can evaluate and interpret it for myself?  Or maybe a title of these research findings?  Suggested Google search query, something other than just asking me to take you at your word.