The kangaroos that most tourists get to see on outback highways in Australia are not a patch on the big, toothy, flesh-eating ones that galloped on the continent 20 million years ago.
"They were galloping kangaroos, they didn't hop," said Australian scientist Mike Archer. "They were also far more muscley than the kangaroos we know, with sharp sabre-like incisors and powerful forelimbs to help rip and tear their prey."
Archer, dean of science at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) here, came to this conclusion after examining fossils found at Riversleigh, part of Queensland's Lawn Hill National Park.
Called Ekaltadeta, the killer kangaroos are just one of 20 previously unknown species that the UNSW team found in their Riversleigh diggings.
Archer said some of the animals discovered were related to others elsewhere in the world, but had evolved uniquely in Australia. The killer kangaroo did not resemble today's kangaroo, he said.
"This is pre-Skippy," Archer said. "You never would have thought of being afraid of a kangaroo, but this is a different period. These kangaroos would not only attack, but they would eat what they attacked."