Naracoorte - Cities, Towns and Localities
This exciting centre is where science and theatre come
together at the Wonambi Fossil Centre, providing a snapshot of ancient
Naracoorte. Visitors can step back in time and discover what Naracoorte was like
over 200,000 years ago!
Palaeontologists have been studying the fossils and bones found in the caves for
over 30 years and have discovered around 120 species of vertebrate animals
represented across the four major vertebrate groups: amphibians, reptiles, birds
The Fossil Centre recreates a time when the local wildlife community was more
diverse than today. For example, 200,000 years ago there were some 20 kangaroo
species in the area. Now there are just four.
Come and enjoy fossil displays and a walk-through diorama with life-sized models
of extinct animals in their ancient habitats.
Wonambi Fossil Centre
Opened in 1998, the centre re-creates a scene of the Naracoorte area as
it may have appeared 200,000 years ago. Based on years of research,
palaeontologists have been able to reconstruct skeletons of these
extinct animals and work out what they looked like and what they ate.
Each of the life-sized, animated models has been made as scientifically
accurate as possible.
Collectively, these large extinct animals are
known as the megafauna. They lived together with the same animals we
see today, but disappeared sometime within the last 50,000 years.
Why did megafauna become extinct?
There are several theories as to why megafauna disappeared. Australia
has experienced several ice ages over the last million years casing
enormous changes to the landscape. This change in climate and the
environment may have been unsuitable for many of the large leaf-eating
herbivores causing them, and their predators, to die out.
The timing of the extinctions also appears to coincide with the
arrival of Aborigines to mainland Australia. Aborigines may have hunted
the large slow-moving animals and altered their habitats through
The combination of these factors may have been what was needed to
push the megafauna to extinction, as they struggle to survive the
changing Australian environment and the appearance of humans.
With over 100 species of vertebrate animals found in the fossil deposits
at Naracoorte to date, many of which are now extinct, there are also
fossil remains of species still living today, although they are no
longer found in south eastern Australia.
Included in the Wonambi
display are the following 13 extinct species:
Two giant wallabies and several species of browsing kangaroos ranging in
size from quite small (20 kg) to almost as large as Procoptodon
have also been identified. These include:
- Diprotodon australis the largest marsupial to ever live in
Australia, weighing over two tonnes. It is rarely found in the cave
deposits, because its sheer size prevented it from falling through
most cave openings.
- Simosthenurus occidentalis stood no taller than a modern grey
kangaroo, but was much more robust. It is one of the nine species of
leaf-eating kangaroos identified at Naracoorte.
- Progura naracoortensis a giant malleefowl was also first described
from Naracoortes fossils.
- Procoptodon goliah the largest of the leaf-eating kangaroos (200kg)
could stand on tiptoe, prop on its tail and reach leaves up to three
metres from the ground. The skull is short and deep, an indication it
had enough power in its jaws to grind up very tough leaves.
- Megalania prisca a goanna of terrifying proportions, 6 metres long
and able to look you in the eye. The first fossil of this goanna was
only found at Naracoorte in 2000.
- Megalibgwilia ramsayi a very large, long-beaked echidna with
powerful digging forelimbs. Their diet would probably have included
worms and grubs rather than ants.
- Palorchestes azael originally described as a giant kangaroo based on
a few fossil teeth. As more fossils of this species were found,
researchers realised that it must have walked on four legs.
Palorchestes may also have had a small trunk, hence the name
- Thylacoleo carnifex commonly called the marsupial lion, it had a
cat-like skull with large slicing premolars or cheek teeth. Combined
with a large retractable thumb claw and powerful forelimbs this animal
would have been a fearsome predator.
- Phascolarctos stirtoni a koala similar to the existing species, but
about one third larger.
- Sarcophilus laniarius a large form of the modern Tasmanian Devil.
- Thylacinus cynocephalus the thylacine or Tasmanian tiger is now
extinct, the last one dying in the Hobart Zoo in 1936. Despite
numerous reports each year, there has been no proof presented to show
the animal is still alive.
- Wonambi naracoortensis a large, non-venomous snake grew to a
length of five to six metres and killed its prey by constriction.
Wonambi is an Aboriginal word for the rainbow serpent. The species
name naracoortensis reflects the fact it was first described from
fossils found at Naracoorte.
- Zygomaturus trilobus a marsupial with no modern day comparisons that
probably lived in the wetter areas of Australia, feeding on clumps of
reeds and sedges it shovelled up with two fork-like front incisors.
The skull has raised nostrils that would be an advantage to the animal
when feeding in water.
- Sthenurus andersoni
- Simosthenurus baileyi
- S. brownei
- S. gilli
- S. maddocki
- S. newtonae
- S. pales
- Protemnodon anak
- P. brehus
Many fossils of megafauna have been found, yet some animals are still
only known from single or very few specimens, for example Propleopus
oscillans (a giant rat kangaroo), Congruus congruus (a
Wallaby) and Warendja wakefieldi (a wombat).
Wonambi naracoortensis and
Information and images are courtesy of
Naracoorte Caves NP