Placental versus Marsupial: A tale of two ‘wolves’

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Dingo1
Dingoes are medium-size dogs, some 1.2 metres (4 ft) from nose to tail tip, weighing about 15 kg (33 lb).
thylacine
Thylacines were larger, about 1.8 m (6 ft) long, nearly 60 cm (2 ft) high at the shoulder, and weighed up to 30 kg.

Australia’s wild dog, the dingo—classified by some as a subspecies of the wolf, Canis lupus dingo1—is certainly viewed by many as sinister and savage, not to be trusted. It has been blamed, with good cause, for mauling sheep,2 stealing (a British tourist was robbed by a dingo on an Australian beach in 2012)3 and even ‘murder’.4,5 There’s something else the dingo is blamed for, though, that is worth examining. Through competition (for food, habitat, etc.) the dingo is said to have caused the disappearance from mainland Australia of the Tasmanian wolf—a marsupial carnivore also known as the thylacine, or (because of its stripes) Tasmanian tiger.6

Dogs/wolves/dingoes are placental mammals, while marsupials (e.g. the kangaroo, koala and possum) have a marsupium, or pouch,7 in which they carry their young. The thylacine’s scientific name, Thylacinus cynocephalus, means ‘pouched one with a dog’s head’.

Evolutionists have traditionally viewed marsupials as more ‘primitive’ than the ‘more advanced’ placental mammals. Albert Le Souef, then curator of Taronga Park Zoo in Sydney, wrote in 1923:

“when animals of this class (marsupials) suddenly find themselves placed in competition with such advanced forms as the Fox, the Cat, and the Rabbit—types far ahead of them on the evolutionary scale—it is … inevitable that they should go down before the invader.”8

Thus it’s not surprising that the dingo—likely the first placental mammal to be transported to Australia by people (probably Aboriginals, by canoe)—is popularly believed to have displaced certain marsupials from the mainland. After all, the dingo never made it to Tasmania, Australia’s southern island state, separated from the mainland by Bass Strait. The first European settlers there found that the marsupial thylacine was widespread and thriving in the dingo’s absence. So much so, in fact, that colonists feared for their sheep, and set about eradicating the threat9 so effectively that today, despite some tantalizing reports of sightings,10 the thylacine is believed to be extinct. The last known individual died in captivity in 1936.

But did the placental wolf really out-compete the ‘primitive’ marsupial? From descriptions of the thylacine, and other evidence, a different perspective emerges.

Europeans settling in Tasmania noted the marsupial thylacine’s ferocity towards dogs and its ability to quickly kill them. A publication co-authored by the aforementioned Albert Le Souef documented the following:

“the thylacine can put up a good fight against a dog, as the following incident, related by Mr Hugh S. Mackay, will illustrate: ‘A bull-terrier was once set upon a wolf (thylacine) and bailed it up in a niche in some rocks. There the wolf stood, with its back to the wall, turning its head from side to side, checking the terrier as it tried to butt in from alternate and opposite directions. Finally, the dog came in close, and the wolf gave one sharp, fox-like bite, tearing a piece of the dog’s skull clean off, and it fell with the brain protruding, dead.’”11

Yet Le Souef seems not to have drawn the obvious conclusion that in a fight with a wild dog over food, the thylacine would likely win! He also documented the marsupial wolf’s success at hunting its regular quarry of live kangaroos, wallabies, bandicoots and wombats, and observed that it had little taste for carrion—it “very rarely takes a dead bait, and seldom returns to a carcass.”12 Whereas dingoes often supplement their diet through scavenging, and will tend to make the most of every kill, it seems the marsupial thylacine had much less trouble regularly catching fresh meat! As another commentator wistfully observed, “There is no evidence that wild dogs competed successfully with thylacines in Tasmania after 1803—except in a cruelly oblique way, where thylacines were incorrectly blamed for dog-kills of sheep.”13

One has to wonder if evolutionists have ever paused to consider, according to their own narrative, the integrity of a notion that says the marsupial thylacine had four million years to adapt to the Australian environment, yet somehow the inferior hunter, the placental dingo, managed to out-compete it in less than 3,000 years (the merest blink of a geological/evolutionary eye)?

As well as being blamed for the mainland demise of the thylacine, the dingo has also been credited with the disappearance from the mainland of another marsupial carnivore, the Tasmanian devil. But the ‘placental outcompetes marsupial’ theory seems flawed here too, given that even though 20th century devils in Tasmania had wild dogs to contend with, by the 1990s they had nevertheless become more numerous than before Europeans arrived.14 So these marsupials also had no trouble expanding their numbers alongside the placentals.

thylacine-skull
Given the thylacine skull’s superficial resemblance to that of a dog, it has sometimes been used as a trick question for zoology students. But the thylacine skull is readily distinguishable by the two prominent holes in the palate bone—a characteristic of marsupials generally.

Marsupials coexisting with placentals

It surprises many people to find out that marsupials are not, nor have ever been, confined to the Australian continent—often thought of as an ‘evolutionary haven’ for marsupials, isolated from competition from placental mammals. Marsupials such as the American opossum15 and the cuscus bear of Sulawesi16 are living proof that marsupials and placentals can coexist. Also, the descendants of some Australian Red-necked Wallabies, introduced to Britain some years ago, are still sometimes seen at large in the UK countryside (despite hunting and roadkill depleting their numbers).17

For creationists, the distribution of animals (and man) can be explained according to post-Flood dispersion patterns,18 while evolutionists have a tough job accounting for why many things are where they are—like the American opossum, for example. The fact that marsupials and placentals can happily coexist is no surprise to creationists.

So why did the thylacine disappear from the Australian mainland? Without an eyewitness account, it’s hard to say for sure. But the World Wildlife Fund attributes the extinction of many species today to man’s impact. Surely this is consistent with the status originally accorded man by God, i.e. to ‘rule over’ the animals as described in Genesis 1:28—and the fact that the whole creation is now in ‘bondage to decay’ (Romans 8:19–22). And all this is happening in a recent (post-Flood) timeframe of thousands, not millions of years.

Thus perhaps the ultimate reason the thylacine disappeared from the mainland was the same reason it then disappeared from Tasmania—i.e. man. How ironic that in man’s eagerness to promote an evolutionary storyline, he accuses the dingo instead—which in this case at least, seems to have been innocent.

Convergence—a convenient evolutionary ‘escape clause’

dingo

The reproductive mechanisms of placentals and marsupials are very different in some ways, yet in others they are amazingly similar. This is not surprising if they had the same Designer. But since in the evolutionary scheme their similarities could not have come from inheriting them from the same ancestor, evolutionists have to invoke ‘convergent evolution’, meaning that evolution hit upon the same solutions repeatedly.

This idea, involving multiple ‘lucky’ mutational coincidences over millions of years, is repeatedly used by evolutionists to ‘explain’ all manner of similarities that do not fit the ‘common ancestor’ idea—including those between the placental and marsupial wolf discussed in the main text.1

  1. Batten, D., Are look-alikes related? Creation 19(2):39–41, 1997; creation.com/lookalikes; also Menton, D., If we resemble apes, does that mean we evolved from apes?, creation.com/apes, 25 August 2000.

References and notes

  1. Catchpoole, D., The Australian dingo—a wolf in dog’s clothing, Creation 27(2):10–15, 2005; creation.com/dingo. Return to text.
  2. The dogs that ate a sheep industry, ABC Radio National: Background Briefing, broadcast 19 May 2013, abc.net.au. Return to text.
  3. australiantimes.co.uk, 19 December 2012. Return to text.
  4. Nine-year-old boy killed by dingoes on holiday island beach, dailymail.co.uk, 1 May 2001. Return to text.
  5. ‘The dingo’s got my baby!’ (interview with Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton), Creation 35(4):21–23, 2013; creation.com/lindy. Return to text.
  6. Evans, O., The Thylacine, australianmuseum.net.au, 30 October 2015. Return to text.
  7. Catchpoole, D., Practical pouches, Creation 30(2):35, 2008; creation.com/practical-pouches. Return to text.
  8. Did the dingo do it—unfairly judged?, convictcreations.com/animals/dingo.htm, acc. 3 February 2016. Return to text.
  9. Bounties were offered for every thylacine scalp from 1830 till 1909, by which time the thylacine was rare, and sought by zoos around the world. Tasmanian tiger, dpipwe.tas.gov.au, 20 November 2014. Return to text.
  10. Doolan, R., Tale behind the Tasmanian tiger, Creation 17(3):20–21, 1995; creation.com/tasmanian-tiger. Return to text.
  11. Owen, D., Thylacine—the tragic tale of the Tasmanian tiger, pp. 121–122, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, NSW, Australia, 2003. Return to text.
  12. Owen, ref. 11, p. 121. Return to text.
  13. Owen, ref. 11, p. 29. Return to text.
  14. However, since then the Tasmanian devil population has been dramatically impacted by the spread of a deadly facial tumour disease. See: Tasmanian Devil—Sarcophilus harrisii, parks.tas.gov.au, 6 November 2014, also Eggleton, M., Tasmanian devil, Creation 37(2):34–37, 2015. Return to text.
  15. Weinberger, L., The Opossum’s tale, Creation 31(4):28–31, 2009; creation.com/opossums. Return to text.
  16. Weston, P. and Wieland, C., The Sulawesi Bear Cuscus, Creation 24(3):28–30, 2002; creation.com/cuscus. Return to text.
  17. Tozer, J., Return of the wallabies: Pictures prove that Aussie marsupials are still hopping around Peak District after fears they had died out, dailymail.co.uk, 10 July 2009. Return to text.
  18. As can plants. See: Statham, D., No evidence of evolution and ‘deep time’, Creation 35(4):40–41, 2013, creation.com/biogeography-against-evolution. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments

D J.
If marsupials were not driven off by placentals, why then is there such a high concentration of marsupials in Australia? It has been said marsupials would migrate faster, but marsupial moles (which are blind) and koalas should be slow to migrate. Also there are the very slow sloths in South America, so far away from the Middle East.
Jonathan Sarfati
But the point of the article was that this argument presupposes that placentals had the ability to drive off marsupials, yet this was just not true in the case of the thylacine. So it proposes an alternative explanation: man. This book chapter has more information: How did the animals get to Australia?
John C.
If there indeed was a universal flood and Noah took Australian placentals and marsupials, including dingos and placental wolves, upon the ark, they presumably remained there until the waters receded and the ark settled in the Mount Ararat region of the Middle East. Some of these released animals would have remained there for some time and reproduced in order to generate viable numbers such that their populations could slowly extend their ranges and eventually, through some as-yet un-described method, reach Australia, including Tasmania. Miraculously, they would leave behind no evidence whatsoever of their long-term occupation of areas of Asia Minor or points farther east prior to embarking to Australia to re-populate that continent (where, presumably, the Genesis ‘universal flood’ had wiped out all creeping things). This quandary does not create trouble for those of us who believe in a limited Biblical flood, i.e. one that was sufficient to Go’'s announced purpose of destroying sinful Mankind but that need not have wiped out every living thing that inhabited the entire planet other than those saved in the ark. It does raise troublesome questions for those who adhere to the universal flood concept.
Jonathan Sarfati
So your real reason for rejecting the universality of the Flood account is alleged problems with marsupials, not because there is the slightest hint in the text for a mere local flood? I don't know how much clearer God could have been, with His pile-up of universal quantifiers. While sometimes one universal like כֹּל (kol, all) can be non-literal, the double kol and even more kols cannot.

all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. … all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground … Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark. (Genesis 7:19–23)

And if you are swallowing the usual Hugh-Ross–style dating of the Flood, by the same ‘dating’ methods he treats almost as Gospel, mankind would have covered all the continents apart from Antarctica. So an anthropologically universal flood must be geographically universal too.

But I don't intend to rehash fully what is amply explained on our site, which you should have consulted before writing, e.g.:



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