Research in Zoology

p-ISSN: 2325-002X    e-ISSN: 2325-0038

2019;  9(1): 12-15



A Description of a New Endemic Carnivorous Marsupialia in Myrtoideae Forests of Australia: A Taxonomic Misadventure with Phototypes

Stephen J. Maxwell

School of Zoology and Ecology, James Cook University, Cairns, Australia

Correspondence to: Stephen J. Maxwell, School of Zoology and Ecology, James Cook University, Cairns, Australia.


Copyright © 2019 The Author(s). Published by Scientific & Academic Publishing.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution International License (CC BY).


This paper uses the now accepted tool of phototyping in conjunction with extensive published anecdotal evidence to describe a new carnivorous Marsupialia. This new taxon differs from all known Marsupialia in having reduced incisors and greatly developed canines. Bicingulatus ninjabearus new species is purported to be an aggressive mimic, with the primary prey item Phascolarctos (sl.). This paper tests the limits for taxonomic validity using phototypes, where the formal structure for erecting taxa grants validity irrespective of physical evidence, and also where the use of phototypes can be demonstrably supported with axillary evidence. This paper seeks to establish precedents on how nature-bound encounters resulting in the capture of an image of a purported new species that is then widely distributed is treated. It is demonstrated that the use of that image can be as a phototype and primary evidence for a species description in taxonomy. Therefore, this paper seeks to test the limits on the application of phototypes. (

Keywords: Aggressive Mimic, Carnivorous, Drop Bear, Myth, Phototype, Taxonomy, Australia

Cite this paper: Stephen J. Maxwell, A Description of a New Endemic Carnivorous Marsupialia in Myrtoideae Forests of Australia: A Taxonomic Misadventure with Phototypes, Research in Zoology , Vol. 9 No. 1, 2019, pp. 12-15. doi: 10.5923/j.zoology.20190901.03.

1. Introduction

The use of phototypes in the place of a physical specimen is not a new concept to biology [1,2]. Historically, the use of image based types, the archaic equivalent of phototypes, was the norm rather than the exception [3-5]. However, the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw a move to ground taxonomy in a more physical realm, leading to the use of physical types and the formulation of rules governing the importance of these types as touchstones to taxonomic intent of the original authors [6-8]. Currently, the option of phototypes is available in circumstances, such as when the ability to capture a preserved type is difficult, or where a death assemblage would lack key taxonomic indicators that enable decrement of one taxonomic form from another [9].
The lack of physical evidence often results in the use of taxonomic attributions, often described with incorrect nomenclatural processes, resulting in invalid descriptions that may become perpetuated in the literature [10,11]. For that reason, the use of photographs as types can be justified as a means of bringing a hypothetical reference point to facilitate a basis for final taxonomic resolution of a species that would otherwise remain undescribed. Often the only evidence we have for a new species is the photographic record of discerning characteristics, particularly in the case of sympatric species, such as aggressive mimics [12]. However, the establishment of a species based on anecdotal evidence can be problematic, particularly where there are reported human interactions that have been documented without ever having physical evidence, leading to dismissal of a taxon as an urban myth or folklore [11]. However, upon closer examination, much of the “mythical” may well exist. One need look no further than Architeuthis dux Steenstrup, 1857 or Ornithorhynchus anatinus Shaw, 1799 all once believed mythical. One possible reason for the mythical status of some taxa is a lack of taxonomic explicitness. Simply, without a formal description, you cannot know what you are looking for.
This paper revises the taxonomy associated with an anecdotally well-known, yet undescribed marsupial. This taxon has a long history of web-based evidence, although much of this evidence has historically been conflated with the Thylarctos plummetus nomen nudum ex Janssen, 2012 [11,13]. This paper also addresses the primary reason for the failure of ecologists and mammal taxonomists to uncover this cryptic species though the provision of an explicit formal definition to enable a positive identification. This formal definition gives taxonomic clarity to enable a more concerted focus on finding examples of this elusive creature. Furthermore, with regard to an ability to formally describe species based on a photograph, this paper demonstrates that such phototypes can lead to taxonomic misadventures, particularly when there is a strong cultural belief underpinning the assumption of existence. Finally, this paper presents a discussion on the role of myth in species determination. Finally, terms of the use of photoypes, this paper demonstrates that there are no limits.

2. Systematic Part

Class: Mammalia
Infraclass: Marsupialia
Supraorder: Australidelphia
Type: Pseudophascolarctos new family
Definition: The mouth bears a pair of sharp canines on the upper and lower jaw, with reduced front incisors. The rear premolars are sharp and pointed, while the molars are somewhat blunted and not fused. The second and third digits are basally fused on the hind legs.
Remarks: This order is erected to contain the known marsupial carnivores that would have been historically included in the Diprotodonta but differs from that complex in having reduced incisors and greatly developed canines [14]. This order is very similar to Vombatiformes in terms of ecological habitat choice and gross external morphology. It is hypothesized that Pseudodiprodontia will also demonstrate a higher degree of similarity in relation to mating and arboreal behaviour to Phascolarctos (sl.). However, the presence of the upper incisors precluded inclusion, based on their definitions, within Vombatiformes and Diprotodonia which are defined by their pair of front incisor teeth on the lower jaw [14,15].
Type: Bicingulatus new genus
Definition: A large solid head and large blunted hairless black nose. The palms on all four limbs are without hair. The ears are fury.
Remarks: The family Bicingulatus is characterised by the use of aggressive mimicry and is monotypic.
Type: Bicingulatus ninjabearus new species
Definition: A medium sized animal up to 15kg in weight, with a solidly callused rear-end and an arboreal habit.
Type: Phototype – figure 1A. This photo is well documented in the peer reviewed literature, and has been attributed incorrectly to Thylarctos plummetus nomen nuda ex Janssen 2012 [1,11].
Definition: With two upper and lower well-developed canines that are not centred, but separated by sharp moderately developed incisors. The premolars are sharp, while the molars are blunt and not fused. The head is solid, with a large, blunt, hairless, black nose. The ears are rounded and hairy, with white patches. Eyes are small and forward facing. Primarily nocturnal when it uses its aggressive mimicry to cosy up to Phascolarctos (sl.), its primary prey, to maximum effect.
Synonymy (peer reviewed):
2012 Thylarctos plummetus nomen nudem ex Janssen, p. 446, pl. 1. Livingston et al. 2017, Fig 2b.
Figure 1. Described extant taxon within the Bicingulatus (s.l) and Phascolarctos (s.l): A) B. ninjabearus new species, clearly showing the upper forward, non-centred canines in contrast to Phascolarctos (s.l) (Phototype – Janssen 2012, fig 1a); B) P. cinereus cinereus ( accessed 30th August, 2018); C) P. cinereus adustus ( accessed 30th August, 2018); D) P. cinereus victor ( accessed 30th August, 2018)
Etymology: The name is a play on the nature of the animal: cryptically aggressive- ninja like; and the association with the prey koala “bear”.
Range: Unknown but is expected to be restricted to areas inhabited by Phascolarctos (sl.).
Remarks: The new species falls with the common lexicon attributed to poorly defined Thylarctos plummetus nomen nuda ex Janssen 2012, although it is not that species, based on the dentine structure, even if poorly defined [13]. The images in the literature clearly show the front canines of B. ninjabearus [1], which is in stark contrast to the defining feature of premolar incisors in T. plummetus [13]. Therefore, Janssen [1] is taxonomically problematic. Janssen [1] notes that there are two Thylarctos (sl.) species that have been taxonomically conjoined and evolved from a single ancestor based on megafaunal bones from Aboriginal middens of the Holocene. However, we cannot find any evidence for the existence of one of these “species” Thylarctos plummetus vampirus Lestat nomen nuda ex Janssen, 2012, and it is therefore considered as derived purely based on folk law [11]. We propose that B. ninjabearus is that second species determined from midden evidence [10].
Given that B. ninjabearus is sympatric with, and morphologically similar to Phascolarctos cinereus Goldfus, 1817 (sl.), as an aggressive mimic, the shift in phenotype of P. cinereus (sl.) that occurs across its range will also be matched at a demonstrable level of phenotypic plasticity by B. ninjabearus. Predation by B. ninjabearus on P. cinereus may well account for some of the declines observed in these P. cinereus populations [16], and may also explain the contrast in isolated introduced P. cinereus populations that have increased where the predator has not be jointly relocated [17]. Similarly, attacks on P. cinereus that have been attributed to domestic animals [18] may have been misreported and it is probable that some have been perpetrated by the new species.

3. Discussion

Phascolarctos (sl.), Thylarctos (sl.) and Bicingulatus (sl.) are very similar in behaviour and external morphology, such that it is possible that many self-reported injuries and second hand accounts of attacks attributed to T. plummetus were perpetrated by B. ninjabearus [19]. Furthermore, it is also possible that many reported aggressive Phascolarctos (sl.) could be the consequence of taxonomic confusion resulting from a lack of formal definition of the new species. In addition, those caring for sick and injured Phascolarctos (sl.) may inadvertently be starving Bicingulatus (sl.) as a consequence of taxonomic misidentification resulting in incorrect food offerings.
While the B. ninjabearus is primarily a hunter of its similar formed Phascolarctos (sl.) prey species, it has been known to attack intruders by dropping out of trees [10]. However, this is believed to primarily be an act of territorial aggression rather than predatory intent. If the victim of this defensive aggression is knocked unconscious, however, it is likely to be subjected to opportunistic feeding, resulting in death.

4. Conclusions

This paper argues that where a widely accepted, and peer published illustration exists, the lack of physical evidence of the organism, should not preclude it from being described. This is particularly the case when the mythology is accepted a cultural reality. The new species is highly aggressive and territorial, and it is highly probable that it is the only potential predator to actively attack humans in territorial defence away from water bodies in Australia. It is proposed that B. ninjabearus be known by the common name “fanged-drop bear”. Historically, there has been a broad conspiracy to dismiss this new species as spurious, a result of the hubbub generated by the combination of taxonomic inconclusivity and myth generation. Now that the true identity of this mimic species has formally been defined, it is important that the government formulate a comprehensive management plan, commencing with a fully funded expedition to uncover the extent of the population before more people are injured or predated upon or goes extinct along with its primary prey item. After all, who in their right mind would come to country where not only are you under threat of death by the myriad of species that are simply referred to as crocodiles, snakes, spiders, stonefishes, cone shells, octopi, sharks, stingrays, cassowaries, jellyfish, bees, wasps, scorpions, ticks, wild pigs, dogs, cows, lizards and now to add to this list, a predatory koala look-alike that nobody knows where or when it could strike?


The author would like to thank Dr. Tasmin Rymer for her invaluable insights into mammal taxonomy and comments on the working draft.


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