What was the animal in the 'Jaws' photo?

The Australian mainland's largest extant native mammalian predator is the Spotted-tailed quoll or Tiger quoll Dasyurus maculatus. It weighs, at most, 7 kg. While rumours of Thylacine Thylacinus cynocephalus (15-30 kg) survival persist both in Tasmania and on the Australian mainland (and, incidentally, in New Guinea too), no compelling evidence has yet been presented which might demonstrate survival to recent decades (though there is at least some suggestive evidence). It has been claimed by some that Tasmanian devils Sarcophilus harrisii (maximum weight 11.8 kg) might also still be extant on the Australian mainland, as tracks and even corpses of the species hint at a continuing presence. However, I don't know what current thinking is on these animals, and the corpses could be escapees from captivity or released individuals from Tasmania.

i-578fae2e57d39e9e1daaf8e178483d31-thylacoleonid_cave_painting.jpg

Until relatively recently, many zoologists took seriously the suggestion that Australia might be home to another, much larger native predator: the so-called Queensland tiger cat. Supposedly, the tiger cat was a striped, puma-sized, cat-like predator. No good evidence was ever put forward that might demonstrate its reality: all we have are eyewitness reports. Some are good, but most are poor (Healy & Cropper 1994, Heuvelmans 1995). Drawings of footprints also exist. In view of the tiger cat's supposed cat-like appearance, it has been suggested that - if it was real - it might have represented a late-surviving marsupial lion, or thylacoleonid (Shuker 1989, 1995, Healy & Cropper 1994). Cave art does seem to show that Thylacoleo carnifex, the youngest and largest marsupial lion, was indeed seen by humans, and striped when alive (see the image above, from Akerman & Willing 2009) [Thylacoleo carnifex skull below, with a Steve Wroe for scale, sort of].

i-07c752a28c1779665ce60c0e2655953c-Steve_Wroe_and_Thylacoleo.jpg

Needless to say, the hypothesis of late marsupial lion survival has not been acknowledged by the palaeontologists who know thylacoleonids best (in print, at least), and in recent decades the idea that the tiger cat might have been real has mostly dissolved outside of the cryptozoological research community. Furthermore, a post-1950s decline in tiger cat sightings has led some cryptozoologists to suggest that the animal may recently have gone extinct. That might sound like special pleading, but, in principle at least, it's not a ridiculous idea: we must have lost loads of species prior to their official discovery.

It is with all of this as the background that we come to the 'Jaws' photo. Taken in or around 1975 by beachcombers in the Margaret River area in Western Australia, it shows a partially decomposed mammal corpse, intimated by some to be a tiger cat corpse. A cropped version of the photo was first published in Karl Shuker's 1996 book The Unexplained. Karl obtained the photo from Australian cryptozoologist Kevin Farley, and Farley noted that staff at both the Australian Museum and Queensland Museum had been unable to identify it (Shuker 1996). However, that doesn't necessarily mean much (for various reasons).

i-90ff4395d9b4e9c3d9a1570d26167665-jaws_photo_7-5-2009_resized_uncropped.jpg

Thanks to Jeff Johnson, I've also been able to get hold of a copy of the photo, and here it is. Its teeth show us that it's evidently not a modern-day thylacoleonid, alas (because thylacoleonids have highly distinctive, protruding incisors and gigantic carnassials), but what is it? There's some real weirdness going on here: let me know what you think, and I'll add my own thoughts later. The partial hairlessness shows that we have a sort of Montauk monster thing going on.

i-9394e6b0dc183ccf8824412af7eae607-jaws_photo_7-5-2009_largest_possible.jpg

Unfortunately, the quality of the image means that we will likely never be able to decide conclusively on an identification from the photo. Back when I was on the editorial board of the (now defunct) The Cryptozoology Review, we received a manuscript in which an author attempted to identify all of the teeth visible in the photos, and to arrive at an identification based on this inference. I never saw this manuscript (which was rejected), so don't know what the conclusions were.

By the way, all of this reminds me that I have still not gotten hold of Malcolm Smith's 1996 book Bunyips & Bigfoots. For some previous Tet Zoo discussion of Thylacoleo see Of dragons, marsupial lions and the sixth digits of elephants: functional anatomy part II.

Refs - -

Akerman, K. & Willing, T. 2009. An ancient rock painting of a marsupial lion, Thylacoleo carnifex, from the Kimberley, Western Australia. Antiquity 83, Issue 319.

Healy, T. & Cropper, P. 1994. Out of the Shadows: Mystery Animals of Australia. Ironbark, Chippendale, Australia.

Heuvelmans, B. 1995. On the Track of Unknown Animals. Kegan Paul International, London.

Shuker, K. P. N. 1989. Mystery Cats of the World. Robert Hale, London.

- . 1995. In Search of Prehistoric Survivors. Blandford, London.

- . 1996. The Unexplained: An Illustrated Guide to the World's Natural and Paranormal Mysteries. Carlton, London.

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Looks like a decomposed dog. Maybe it is a Tasmanian devil, but that idea seems doubtful to me. Too bad we don't have any sort of scale in this picture.

Note to all cryptozoologists, next time measure the weird corpse you're photographing, or as to paraphrase a quote by Matt Wedel...

"Measure your damned cryptid...its SCIENCE!"

By Metalraptor (not verified) on 08 May 2009 #permalink

To me, it looks mostly like a dead cat.

Metalraptor:

Too bad we don't have any sort of scale in this picture.

That seems to be the rule rather than the exception in these kinds of cases... And did the discoverers only photograph the front part of the carcass instead of the whole thing?

The carcass looks like one of short-faced dog breeds.

About Thylacoleo - Queensland tiger cat controversy. Thylacoleo had so characteristic dentition, opposable thumb and body shape, that live animal or its footprints would look very different from any big cat or descriptions of so-called tiger cats.

BTW - I wonder if anybody played with reconstructing footprints of extinct animals known only from their bones. And why? Would be interesting amateur scientist puzzle.

This is probably wrong, but could it be an incredibly bloated cat?

By William Miller (not verified) on 08 May 2009 #permalink

Jerzy wrote...

Thylacoleo had so characteristic dentition, opposable thumb and body shape, that live animal or its footprints would look very different from any big cat or descriptions of so-called tiger cats.

Yes, that's true in part: as some have said, Thylacoleo would have looked more like a murderous giant possum than a cat but... some 'tiger cat' sightings do in fact report most un-cat like features, including protruding teeth, pouches, and a body and tail shape noted by witnesses to be un-catlike. Many such accounts originate from a researcher called Rex Gilroy, and for various reasons there is, shall we say, doubt attached to their veracity. But not all of them do.

You'd think that the first thing to do with the carcass would be to check if it was a marsupial or placental.

My guess is probably feral cat, or maybe quoll, but the photos I've found of the western quoll (Dasyurus geoffroii) suggest a creature with a longer muzzle than 'Jaws' here.

And yes, couldn't the folks who discovered the carcass at least take some decent measurements?

Its definitely some sort of carnivoran. I highly doubt that it is a dead cat; the dentition is wrong. The dentition looks more like that of a canid, specifically a short rostrum-ed domestic species.

If you look, there are at least three definite lower postcanine teeth (not cusps - but separate teeth). You can probably ignore the 'diastema' posterior to the upper and lower canines - the P1 in carnivorans is single rooted, and single rooted teeth fall out of the jaw fairly early on during bloat and float (i.e. data from pinnipeds and cetaceans).

I put my money on something like a pit bull or bulldog, based on the short muzzle. But probably a non-felid carnivoran.

Bobby

It must be some kind of old lady's dog with their silly short faces.

Supposedly, the tiger cat was a striped, puma-sized, cat-like predator. No good evidence was ever put forward that might demonstrate its reality: all we have are eyewitness reports.

Speaking of the Queensland tiger cat... Zoologist Roger Martin made the suggestion in his 2005 book Tree-kangaroos of Australia and New Guinea that some of the 'tiger' observations made in the forests of Queensland may be based on hasty observations of fleeing tree-kangaroos (which sometimes spend time on the ground); more precisely of their rear ends with their long tails, which are of similar proportions than those of big cats.

Are you sure it's a photo? Blurry as it is, it looks like a painting⦠~:-|

Is that a spotted cuscus?

Being a possum -- a diprotodontian --, the spotted cuscus lacks canines and has large gnawing incisors.

rumours of Thylacine Thylacinus cynocephalus (15-30 kg) survival persist both in Tasmania and on the Australian mainland (and, incidentally, in New Guinea too)

NG too? Now it gets interesting.

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 08 May 2009 #permalink

I agree, there is some real weirdness going on here.

Even with the obvious easy identity of the even further decomposed Montauk "monster", identification on this one is tough. So far we have suggestions of quoll, feral cat, dog, and devil. I have even heard monkey from another source. All this makes it even more strange. So odd.

While the dentition is not a match for thylacoleo, the teeth are very robust and pronounced(hence the name "Jaws"?). Look at the skull of a feral cat and you will see that it has fine sharp teeth, unlike the thing in the photo. Dentition doesn't match thylacoleo, but it doesn't seem to match anything else either.

Something that bothers me about the arrangement of teeth, is it looks as though only 2 large flat incisors fill the space between what I see as the canines in the upper jaw. This could be a photographic anomaly, but it is hard to be sure. And, while this probably does not apply to the thing in the photo, thylacoleo was sexually dimorphic. It seems some males had more pronounced teeth than females. I have seen thylacoleo skulls that had a wide degree of dental appearance. Some had incisors that would have shown even with the mouth closed(see photo with Wroe), others had smallish shorter incisors that looked stunted compared to some.

Hard to say just what this is in the photo, but it is at least something that deserves a closer look. Jeff

By Jeff Johnson (not verified) on 08 May 2009 #permalink

The problem with the 'short-faced dog breed' suggestion, in my view, is that bulldogs, pugs and other similar breeds have very pronounced underbites (even though this is a rather extreme example, bulldog skulls look seriously freaky). And I can't see any sign of such an underbite in that animal.

Also, the lower jaw, in particular, seems a bit too gracile and narrow to belong to a dog (particularly a bulldog-like dog). The forelimbs look more cat-like than dog-like to me, and I can't see any trace of visible claws on them (though the resolution is indeed quite crappy).

And finally - and this is admittedly very circumstantial evidence - , it seems quite unlikely to me that such an extremely short-faced dog would be a stray or feral, and end up uncollared, dead and washed up on a beach.

Thus, cat is still in my opinion the most likely alternative.

Who in their right mind would take a photograph of a hard-to-identify carcass at this angle? I'm hoping that someone has photos of a more illustrative value out there. The dentition looks cat-like to me, and I'm presumably all of the weirdness is due to it being one of the feral megacats :)

Something I wanted to mention; the cave painting of thylacoleo Tim took photos of. I am sure it is indeed thylacoleo.

What is interesting is that shows thylacoleo was striped, with triangular ears. This is something that Queensland Tiger reports have often stated. But until now, we didn't know what the coat of thylacoleo looked like. It could be coincidence, but one has to wonder. And, at the risk of getting flamed ;),doesn't the animal in the cave painting remind one of the animal in the Rilla Martin photo? Jeff

By Jeff Johnson (not verified) on 08 May 2009 #permalink

"Faked, Summerlee! Clumsily faked!"

I mean, maybe it's not, but a pretty large percentage of all cryptid photos are a couple of guys trying to get their 15 minutes with some papier-mâché and polyester fur. "Faked" should be one of the top defaults until disproven.

The Thylacoleo cave painting is really interesting, I have never heard of ot. And it looks really similar to the animal on the photo Jeff mentioned.

The canines seem bigger on the lower jaw than the upper. Is this a real trait or just the way the flesh has swelled, and if it is real, what does it mean?

By William Miller (not verified) on 08 May 2009 #permalink

I'm gonna vote 'nay' on thylacaleonid here, recent or old and just mummified. The arms seem far too short and the paws too small. I dunno. An old male koala with his top front incisors knocked out? It doesn't really look like anything! lol

By Kryptos18 (not verified) on 08 May 2009 #permalink

My first thought was it's a pretty good painting of a demon.

It's probably a ropenine migonid.

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 08 May 2009 #permalink

The exact scale is problematic, but there is enough resolution to get a good idea of the sand grain size, and the assorted beach (looks like ocean, more likely) debris around the carcass also would point to something only about a foot long.

Could it be a puppy from a large breed? That could fudge toward the shorter face, with some pretty serious leeway added by swelling.

One thing that would be helpful would be to establish some sense of scale for the picture, though the only possible means to do that seems to be the seaweed (?) behind the animal's head.

Another odd element of the photo is that the rear part of the animal almost appears to "dissolve". It give the impression of widening out, deflating, and assuming the color of the underlying sand. Was it a result of the lighting, had the body been cut in half, or could it be evidence of photographic manipulation?

By William D. Robertson (not verified) on 08 May 2009 #permalink

This amateur's first impression is "dead koala." Combination of the fur, the line of the jaw, and the shape of the forelegs. The abdomen (what I can see of it) also looks koala-ish, but then it's probably swollen.

By Jenny Islander (not verified) on 08 May 2009 #permalink

I have even heard monkey from another source.

Monkey? With those ears? Never.

This amateur's first impression is "dead koala."

Completely incompatible with the teeth -- including the very presence of canines!

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 08 May 2009 #permalink

That carcass sure got some very strange lower canines!

By Erik Knatterud (not verified) on 08 May 2009 #permalink

Some observations:

- As others have noted, the forelimbs do seem very koala-like.

- The coat seems to have the kind of strange white spotting and markings that are very indicative of a lot of native Australian marsupials. It's a little difficult to make out because of the erosion from current and water action, but it seems to be there in places.

So given those characteristics, I would say that it is some kind of native Australian marsupial. I don't know enough about Australian wildlife to determine whether it is something known or unknown, existing or supposedly extinct. I would wager that there are some gaps in the fossil record so there is the possibility of it being something entirely new as well.

By sinuous_tanyst… (not verified) on 08 May 2009 #permalink

For the marsupial lion cave painting: if the real pelt colors of the species are thin stripes along the entire back, with triangle ears, all future reconstructions should follow this pattern......

Its a domestic cat. Look at the left side of its face, it still retains all the fur. You can even see the fur go right to the tip of the nose leaving just the face of the nose as bare skin. I know there's actual terminology to describe this but they escape me at the moment. Also look at the right paw, If it was a marsupial the hand would be much larger. And there would be claws. And the dentition is a perfect match for a domestic cat. http://www.boneclones.com/images/bc-131-lg.jpg

By Christopher Co… (not verified) on 08 May 2009 #permalink

Looks like a decomposed domestic cat. At first I thought "brachycephalic dog", but after a closer examination of the photo, especially the lower canines and mandible, I think it's a cat.

Then again, I've never seen a decomposed koala.

I know the koala suggestions were meant as a joke, but I feel honour-bound to point out that as the photo was supposedly taken near Margaret River, a koala would be almost as fantastic an ID as a thylacoleonid. Even more so, in fact - we know thylacoleonids were at least at one time found in Western Australia, but the western half of the continent is so far a koala-free zone.

Darren's opening sentence:
"Australia's largest extant native mammalian predator is the Spotted-tailed quoll or Tiger quoll Dasyurus maculatus."

Did Tasmania secede?

I think I'm going to cast my (very amateur) opinion with "dog of some kind."

Regarding this possibility, Dartian wrote: "The problem with the 'short-faced dog breed' suggestion, in my view, is that bulldogs, pugs and other similar breeds have very pronounced underbites (even though this is a rather extreme example, bulldog skulls look seriously freaky). And I can't see any sign of such an underbite in that animal."

This is definitely true of the extreme short-faced breeds (what I mentally tag the "squash-faced breeds") like pug and bulldog. And the animal in the picture certainly isn't a squash-face. However, there's a number of breeds that do have relatively short faces without having squashed faces. I think this could well be one of those. As one example, consider the Australian Cattle Dog.

By wolfwalker (not verified) on 08 May 2009 #permalink

I know the koala suggestions were meant as a joke

You'd hope so, considering the obvious lack of two thumbs per manus on the carcass...

Darren, I am glad you mentioned the possible sightings of thylacines in New Guinea. I remember reading, in of all places, the in-flight magazine of Air Niugini (yes they do have an airline, and it does have an in-flight magazine) a remarkable story about a researcher looking for them. The story, as I remember it, was this: some missionaries in the highlands (on the Irian Jaya side if I remember correctly) had brought in a children's book of all different kinds of animals to help his converts learn English. He paged through it with the local people showing them leopards and lions and such, and he came to a photo of a thylacine. "We have those here!" they exclaimed excitedly. "No, you are mistaken," he said, "they are extinct." "No they aren't, we see them once in a while!"

Somehow another researcher, and an expert in thylacines, got involved, and quizzed them further, and without prompting, they were able to describe the behavior, appearance, and, most tellingly, the apparently unusual scat of the animal. As of the time of the article, several expeditions had turned up no actual sightings, but locals in the highlands continue to insist that they are an extant, though rare and highly secretive, part of the local fauna.

The article also mentions that the habitat in which the thylacine was supposed to be found in New Guinea occur at or near the tree line in the central highlands, and that it is not all that different than its Tasmanian habitat. Which doesn't explain, to me, what exactly they would eat, as the highlands are even more devoid of terrestrial prey animals than the rest of New Guinea. So there's that.

Sorry I can't elaborate more; it was a magazine article I read in 1994, and although it captured my imagination, I don't recall much more. New Guinea is still, even today, a wild enough place that there is room for a discovery like that, although the lack of success so far is discouraging.

There are stories of giant, Megalania-sized monitor lizards still at large in the upper Sepik as well, but that's a story for another time...

You'd hope so, considering the obvious lack of two thumbs per manus on the carcass...

Really?

The lowermost foreleg in the picture is upturned, so if it were a cat or dog one would expect to see just the naked toe and heel pads. Instead there seems to be something in the foreground... Although I do admit I could be mistaken.

By sinuous_tanyst… (not verified) on 08 May 2009 #permalink

There are stories of giant, Megalania-sized monitor lizards still at large in the upper Sepik as well, but that's a story for another time...

Then there are those persistent reports of certain flying animals....

Which could easily be some kind of new bat or bird, which would still be cryptozoologically and zoologically significant.

By sinuous_tanyst… (not verified) on 08 May 2009 #permalink

Okay, okay, I see that there is a strict protocol to be followed in photographing anything that is to be part of the field of cryptozoology.

1. Take as few photos as possible, preferably only one.

2. Never include a scale bar. Never.

3. Never photograph the animal or carcass orthogonally; always use some kind of inverted oblique foreshortened perspective.

4. Whatever you do, don't make the photos widely available. Hold onto them for years or decades, publish them in tremendously obscure books or self-published journals with Byzantine copyright restrictions, pass them around amongst the wackaloon fringe, but whatever you do, don't let them get into the hands of anyone knowledgeable until it's far too late for them to be useful.

What percentage of the photographic matter of cryptozoology consists of ordinary animals photographed by morons, or ordinary people's ordinary photographs of animals (never intended to be used as evidence of anything) misinterpreted by morons?

Interesting... it would be nice to know the age of the cave painting, pity the article doesn't (seem to) mention it. This might shed some light on the timing of the extinction of at least this member of the Australian megafauna, since this still seems to be under debate.

What interests me about the painting is the shape of the forelimbs: this sort of shape reminds me of Palorchestes, a herbivorous (or possibly myrmecophagous) with extremely weird elbows - I can't remember the exact details, but their motion is very limited, and they are often depicted in exactly the way the forelimbs of this mammal are. The lack of a trunk may be problemaatic, though it is not certain whether or not Palorchestes did indeed possess one.

As for the carcass, I'll agree with the consensus: looks like a dog. Poor Toto...

I have to agree with the 'probably dog' crowd. The teeth look too fat and stubby to be a cat. Also does the depression in the sand with sharp edges in the top right hand corner look like the print of the toe of a shoe to you? With a possible next step at the bottom right of centre of the photo. That could give some idea of size, but could just as easily be random indents in the sand. Also the fuzzier imprint right next to the head could be a footprint also.

My dad reckons he has a 'large feline-like animal' living the the hills above his house. He's convinced himself (and my sister) that its the animal the natives called the bunyip, and it's the size of a small horse, and there's a whole population of them, spread over Australia, that have never been seen officially. He says all the 'cat sightings' are this beast and the zoologists are too lazy to investigate and possibly the government knows but are keeping it secret (he can't tell me why). All the sightings except those that were proven to be really big feral domestic moggies, are actually bunyips. He has no interest in actually getting any evidence to prove it and he expects me to believe and agree with him on his say so. I hope he's not going senile.

By Katkinkate (not verified) on 09 May 2009 #permalink

By the way thanks for this cave art picture of Thylacoleo. I had never heard of cave art depicting these majestic and intriguing beasts before.
Those forequarters look a bit like the forequarters of a sabretoothed cat like smilodon with their extremely powerful forelimbs.
Their large eyes suggest a nocturnal living style, I don't know whether thylacine was a nightly hunter but if it was then the reptiles (megalomania(varanus)/the terrestrial crocs/and maybe the large archaic wonambi snakes) ruled the day.

#39 sinuous_tanystropheus: I believe that's the "ropen". Information about this cryptid is highly confused because lots of creationists have jumped on the bandwagon, thinking a living pterosaur would disprove evolution. (I'm not sure where they get this idea. Pterosaur survival is exceptionally unlikely, but that's just because such obvious animals would have been seen, not because of any a priori unlikelihood. 65+ million year ghost lineages aren't unheard of.)

Furthermore, the ropen seems to be a confounding of two different things - a bird/bat/whatever cryptid, and lights similar to the Marfa or Brown Mountain lights.

By William Miller (not verified) on 09 May 2009 #permalink

Why this rock painting is proposed to be Thylacoleo, rather than thylacine, numbat, toolache or some other extinct megafauna?

About Thylacoleo/Queensland cat: Darren, I remember only Queensland cat picture from Heuvelmans. Isn't Queensland cat supposed to be rather elongated, short-legged and long-tailed, and Thylacoleo heavy, long-legged and shorter-tailed?

And the dentition is a perfect match for a domestic cat. http://www.boneclones.com/images/bc-131-lg.jpg

The teeth fit as perfectly as the blurred photo (did someone descreen it?) will allow. (Keep in mind that the right upper canine is broken.) Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner.

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 09 May 2009 #permalink

The Thylacoleo paper is by Ackerman and Willing(2009) Published in Antiquity (Vol 83 Issue319) Interesting stuff. My vote for the cryptid is dead cat.

By Carey Burke (not verified) on 09 May 2009 #permalink

Late to the race, but a word on brachycephalic dogs -- they don't have to be undershot, though they often are, and the degree of undershotness can be very slight. In this case it is called a "reverse scissors" bite. Also, I don't know about Aussie, but here in North America almost any breed and unlikely crossbred, however rare, can turn up stray or in shelters. My last visit to the pound, I saw a white American Bulldog, an Olde English Bulldogge, and a young pug, among all the usual shepherd-husky crosses and tangled terriers. A recent weird cross I saw a photo of in shelter was dachshund x Doberman. Given the right cross, you can produce in the first generation an animal that looks as weird as Jaws here, while still alive.

We should have a vow: "I solemnly swear if I find a dead cryptid, I will take pictures with scale indicators, and then cut off something, anything, for DNA analysis. A few teeth would be good too." To that end, I shall begin carrying a flask of moonshine with me wherever I go. For preservation purposes only. No, really.

Noni
sometime dog breeder and possessor of an "old lady's dog"

By Noni Mausa (not verified) on 09 May 2009 #permalink

Agreed, a house cat. Sorry.

Thanks for the Thylacoleo paper!

Anybody knows the link to earlier known Thylacoleo cave painting mentioned by Ackerman and Willing?

BTW - the authors point that animal on a painting has a heel. Did Thylacoleo have a heel?

BTW2 - if the painting was a Thylacoleo, it possibly had tufted tail.

... eee, tufted tail is cool!

BTW - any other supposed megafauna in Oz paintings?

...it occurs to me that i habitually carry a fair number of things that'd make good scale indicators in a photo. folding multitool, zippo lighter, pocket knife... i'd have little trouble prying open the jaws of even a truly disgusting carcass for a nice close-up of the dentition, with what i carry most every day. but i never carry a camera.

oh well, how much cryptozoology am i likely to run into in the northwoods of the American Midwest? (and cougars don't count.)

By Nomen Nescio (not verified) on 09 May 2009 #permalink

Nomen Nescio wrote: "it occurs to me that i habitually carry a fair number of things that'd make good scale indicators in a photo. folding multitool, zippo lighter, pocket knife"

- I've seen people use money for this. Seems logical.

I agree with the above. Some people even have shoes, socks , themselves (or old lady's dogs/cougars) for comparison.

Jerzy:

any other supposed megafauna in Oz paintings?

This is perhaps stretching the concept of 'megafauna' a bit, but there is at least one rock painting from Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, that almost certainly depicts a long-beaked echidna Zaglossus. Long-beaked echidnas are, of course, still extant in New Guinea, but extinct in Australia since the late Pleistocene.

I for one am convinced there is 'something out there' in the Australian bush.
A friend of mine, an MD, recently lost a dog when its chest was ripped out by an unknown animal near Grafton, NSW. This happened in tall dark semi-rainforest not far from the house, adjacent to state forest on very broken country which runs quickly up the Great Dividing Range. Locals say the attack was consistent with a quoll attack, which supposedly goes straight for the heart, but this must have been a big and bold quoll to kill a 35kg dog. Owners heard the dog screaming and found it.
A 3rd hand report I heard of a supposed thylacine attack in Tasmania in the 1940's described a similar MO. This kill was reportedly witnessed by the dogs owner who went out to investigate the barking at dusk. The dog was straining upright on the leash. The animal hit the dog with massive force and was gone.

And crossbred pig/roo hunting dogs and large feral cats are pretty common in WA, add manatuk et voila - beach specimen without scale = monster.

PS doesn't everyone have a coin in their pocket & camera in their mobile phone now?

Both dentition and forelimbs rule out koala or cuscus (and wasn't this supposedly washed up in WA? - No koalas over there, and certainly no cuscus). I was going to say bulldog before reading any earlier comments, but on looking closer the upper right canine is clearly broken off short. With longer canines all round (concentrate on the three intact ones!) it yells 'cat'. Then look at the ears. Yup. Reminds me of that boof-headed near-hairless animal from Yemen or wherever that Darren showed a while back.
Thanks too for the rock-painting link. Somebody said "it would be nice to know the age of the cave painting, pity the article doesn't (seem to) mention it." I guess the authors not only had no direct evidence based on a few photos, but didn't think it needed spelling out: if the thylacoleo is overpainted by Bradshaws, it's pretty feckin' old (consistent with being Pleistocene, not Holocene). Very difficult to date directly, but one thermoluminescence date for a wasp nest partly covering a Bradshaw was 17 ka.

By John Scanlon FCD (not verified) on 10 May 2009 #permalink

A few more comments while we're waiting for Darren's assessment.

Steve P:

As for the carcass, I'll agree with the consensus: looks like a dog.

Consensus? A fair number of people here have supported the cat alternative from the start, and at least a couple who originally thought 'dog' have changed their minds. And anyway, we're not counting votes here; we're assessing, as far as it's possible under these circumstances, the quality of the data. And the case for 'cat', at least as thus far presented, is stronger. (Frankly, I'd say that anyone who wants to argue for the dog alternative would need to resort to special pleading.)

Noni:

the degree of undershotness can be very slight.

But even when that's the case, a short-faced dog's jaw shape is different from a cat's (the cat's lower jaw is narrower).

here in North America almost any breed and unlikely crossbred, however rare, can turn up stray or in shelters.

Well, in theory almost anything can turn up almost anywhere. But we have to deal with probabilities here. Margaret River is a tiny town (it has about 4,000 inhabitants today, and AFAIK it wasn't significantly more populous in 1975). There is no reason to think that the place had a particularly large pool of unusually short-faced dog breeds*.

* A more general point: one should not assume that the dog breeds that are popular and common today were popular and common 35 years ago. Boesse mentioned (American) pit bull earlier; I stand open to be corrected, but I'd assume that that's a perfect example of a breed of dog that would have been very rare anywhere in Australia in the mid-seventies. The likelihood of such a rare dog ending up decomposing on the beach near a small, far-away town would have been small to put it mildly. (On the other hand, cats, domestic or feral, are and were common almost everywhere in Oz.)

DaveB:

this must have been a big and bold quoll to kill a 35kg dog.

Could you rule out feral hog? A large pig is perfectly capable of dispatching a dog of that size.

Looks most like a cat to me, and the more I look at it the more cat-like it looks.

The New Guinea thylacine is allegedly called dobsnega - some of the reports seem sound, but there don't seem to be many of them.

If the thylacoleo painting has Bradshaw figures painted over it, it must be very old, all known genuine Bradshaw paintings are believed to be really ancient (and look rather 'african' to me).

I strongly recommend Bunyips & Bigfoots which is one of the best books on cryptozoology I have read. It strikes the right balance between open-mindedness and scepticism. I have not seen it for sale in the UK, I was fortunate to be in Queensland just after it was published and got a copy.

By Mark Lees (not verified) on 10 May 2009 #permalink

For some reason, Mark Lee's comments isn't showing up, despite being listed in the sidebar. Weird. Here it is...

-----------------

Looks most like a cat to me, and the more I look at it the more cat-like it looks. The New Guinea thylacine is allegedly called dobsnega - some of the reports seem sound, but there don't seem to be many of them. If the thylacoleo painting has Bradshaw figures painted over it, it must be very old, all known genuine Bradshaw paintings are believed to be really ancient (and look rather 'african' to me). I strongly recommend Bunyips & Bigfoots which is one of the best books on cryptozoology I have read. It strikes the right balance between open-mindedness and scepticism. I have not seen it for sale in the UK, I was fortunate to be in Queensland just after it was published and got a copy.

> There are stories of giant, Megalania-sized monitor lizards
> still at large in the upper Sepik as well,

I remember that, back in the eighties, the German popular science magazines claimed that Colonel Blashford-Snell OBE had dicovered a 5 m long monitor in New Guinea. This was presented as a fact, not a rumour - but remember that PM and the like should not be taken too seriously, and that the Colonel considers himself a fortean zoologist, rather than a cryptozoologist.
BTW the misspelling *Megalomania* is cute.

Oh, ok [this was in reference to the eventual appearance of Mark's comment].

While I'm here: on cave paintings of other Aus megafauna, there is another alleged Thylacoleo. It was reported by Akerman (1998) but is more amorphous than the newer image shown above. This is also an alleged Palorchestes (Murray & Chaloupka 1984). Murray & Chaloupka (1984) also figured a painting that they cautiously identified as a Thylacoleo: it's not good enough to be sure, but it has the same sort of tufted tail and dangling genitalia as the Akerman & Willing 2009 image.

Incidentally, there are also various unidentified mammals in some ancient rock art, some of which are cat-like or thylacine-like. There's a particularly good one in the same cave as the new Kimberley Thylacoleo. I have photos but don't have permission to share them.

Ref - -

Akerman, K. 1998. A rock painting, possibly of the now extinct marsupial Thylacoleo (marsupial lion), from the north Kimberley, Western Australia. The Beagle, Records of the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory 14, 117-21.

Murray, P. & Chaloupka, G. 1984. The Dreamtime animals: extinct megafauna in Arnhemland rock art. Archaeology in Oceania 19, 105-116.

Johannes wrote...

I remember that, back in the eighties, the German popular science magazines claimed that Colonel Blashford-Snell OBE had dicovered a 5 m long monitor in New Guinea. This was presented as a fact, not a rumour...

Blashford-Snell and colleagues did indeed, in 1980, capture a monitor lizard in New Guinea. But it was nothing like 5 m long: it was more like 2 m. Photos are included in one of Blashford-Snell's book and it's definitely a Crocodile monitor or Salvadori's monitor Varanus salvadorii. In the book (Blashford-Snell 1983), it is suggesed that the animal is a juvenile Artrellia. The Artrellia has sometimes been imagined as a gigantic varanid unrecognised by science, but some authors (notably the late Mark Bayless, my good friend) have used the name as an ethnic term for V. salvadorii.

Ref - -

Blashford-Snell, J. 1983. Mysteries: Encounters with with Unexplained. Bodley Head, London.

The New Guinea thylacine is allegedly called dobsnega

In which of the 700 to 1000 languages?

By David MarjanoviÄ, OM (not verified) on 11 May 2009 #permalink

Sounds interesting!

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 25 May 2009 #permalink

Hi Darren,

to the best of my knowledge this photograph has never been published. Take care that you haven't breached copyright.

In any case, I have also contemplated this image previously and concluded it was a cat. I look forward to considering your article - and the 67 previous comments - in detail shortly.

Chris.
www.wherelightmeetsdark.com

Shoot first, ask questions later.

Okay - so you already explained, the photo has been published before.

I have just completed a comparison with a domestic cat skull. I will post this online within the next day or so for you all to consider.

Chris.

To respond to a couple of points in the comments - some mentioned the lower canine being longer than the upper. I think this is because the upper right canine is broken. I'm guessing this animal was hit by a car then somehow made its way into a river and finally ended washed up on a beach. If it has a broken tooth, then it may well have misaligned jaws too.

Eugene referenced the Irian Jaya thylacines (comment 37), saying he read about them in 1994. I'd heard earlier that the report was made in 1995 but that could be wrong.

The researcher was Ned Terry, of Tasmania. He flew to Irian Jaya on account of the missionary that had returned to Australia (who also lived in Tasmania). He spent 3 days looking. The local word for the thylacine was "dobsenga" (misspelled - I think - "dobsnega" in comment 61). David (65) - I've never heard it reported which language that was, but if I catch up with Ned I'll be sure to ask.

Anyhow, Ned said that they saw absolutely nothing. When he discussed this with the locals they asked if he'd seen cuscus. When he replied "no" he realised that they were implying if there are no cuscus, then you won't get the top-order predator either.

Other research suggests the thylacine typically ate prey that was much smaller than itself. Hence, this animal which can grow to 2.9m may well survive on cuscus, possums, pademelons and the like. It's for this reason that I speculate the species may have survived in the south-west of Tasmania. Most commentators write-off that region, stating there is not enough prey species, but the fact remains that thylacines were documented there prior to their extinction - and if, as speculated, they feed on prey much smaller than themselves, then they won't need huge numbers of larger macropods to survive.

Steve (comment 41) noted the similarity between Thylacoleo and a herbivorous species. I've heard it theorised that Thylacoleo was in fact a herbivore-cum-carnivore. My theory is that Thylacoleo is the true source of the great Australian mythological Drop Bear. Ouch. Mind the teeth.

Jerzy (50), the thylacine had a tufted tail too.

David B - could a kangaroo wipe out a 35kg dog too? I know of a 6 foot eastern grey that killed 2 pig dogs before their owner called back the third dog. And that was after a couple of 303 rounds in the roo's chest. It hopped off after that.

Regarding the 5m monitor lizard ... a little under 2 meters (comment 64) is close to 5 foot.

Lastly, here's my rundown on Jaws' teeth. I still think it's a cat.

Chris.

Dobsenga, whatever it was, might have been dependent on cuscus producing enough offspring to keep it fed. If it got hungry enough to eat them all, no more cuscus, and no more dobsenga.

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 13 Aug 2009 #permalink

Definitely a Carnivora. But I don't think it's a cat, or a dog.

1) Scale - sand grains in the south west of Western Australia (including Margaret River area) are quite large and coarse, so this animal is probably a lot bigger than some people have estimated, i.e. not just "a foot long". I estimate that head to be 20cm across. If that's a domestic cat, it's an unusually large one.

2) Teeth are not fine and needle-like, like a domestic cat's - they are stouter and blunter, more like a domestic dog's. But shape of head is rounder and shorter than a typical dog's.

3) Paws, forelimbs, ear shape and general appearance remind me of a Fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox) - robust body and slightly shortened forelimbs (compared to cat), rounded ears (compared to dog). Check wikipedia for photos of a living animal and a skull. Fossa has a similar dental formula to cat - 3/3, 1/1, 3-4/3-4, 1/1. (Cat dental formula is 3/3, 1/1, 3/2, 1/1.)

Could this dead animal have drifted to Western Australia from Madagascar on the South Equatorial, Antarctic Circumpolar, then West Australia Currents?

Any estimate on how long that corpse has been in the water (i.e. how long does it take for fur to start rotting off the skin)?

On a completely different subject: Darren, may I ask where you get 3kg as a maximum weight for Dasyurus maculatus? R. Strahan (ed.) "Mammals of Australia" (2005) lists 7kg for males and 4kg for females.

By Linda Dalgliesh (not verified) on 23 Aug 2010 #permalink

Hi Linda. For reasons explained in the next article, I think it's pretty clear that the carcass is of a domestic cat.

On weights for Dasyurus maculatus, I checked with Walker's Mammals of the World and a few other sources, all of which give weight as 2-3 kg. I now see that these are far from maximum weights for this species: they are probably average weights. I'll edit the text accordingly, thanks for the heads-up.