‘Damn nature you scary!’, is probably what rang out from the labs of UNSW when this research came in.


Y’all know the Drop Bears myth right? Aussies tell international travellers (or sometimes the other way around) about giant koala-like bears that hang out in treetops and drop straight onto your tent while you’re sleeping or onto your head as you walk on by.

And we’ve all had a good chuckle and said ‘Who would believe such a thing? Australia isn’t as scary as it sounds’. We’ve even pondered, ‘Where the hell did this myth come from in the first place? Did it all start from some Bundy Rum ad?’.

Well, newsflash people, turns out this myth may be based in FACT. According to researchers, way back in the Middle Miocene Epoch (approximately 16 million years ago), Australia was SCARIER than any myths going around today.

What exactly are we talking about here?

This week, UNSW researchers shared findings that may have confirmed the myth of the elusive ‘Drop Bear’, while also unveiling a bunch of other horrifying shit that was going down in the Middle Miocene and let me just say, thank god I was born in the 1990s. 

According to research recently published in the Journal of Paleontology, massive 70kg marsupials called Nimbadons used to roam the canopies of lowland rainforest around what’s now known as southern Queensland and NSW. Legitimately described as a ‘koala on steroids many times over’ the size of these Nimbadons make them the largest tree-dwelling mammal ever found in Australia (tree-dwelling reptiles still to come).

‘Their skeletons tell us they had to be up in the trees, virtually hanging upside down by gigantic koala-like claws, powerful forelimbs, rotating forelimbs that enable them to climb,’ said Professor Mike Archer of the UNSW Pangea Research Centre


Photo by Karen Black


Although their closest living relatives are burrowing wombats (go figure), UNSW researchers reckon that in terms of lifestyle and size the most comparable living animal is Sun bears, found hanging out in the rainforests of South East Asia.  

Professor Archer also says that these giant bumbling tree-wombats would sometimes lose their grip and fall, at times into caves that’d formed on the floor of the forest, which is where their skeletal fossils have been found.

Sounds more like a Fall Bear than a Drop Bear, but let’s not get into semantics. #falloutbear

All this research comes from the examination of Nimbadon skeletons found in Riversleigh World Heritage Area in Queensland’s north-west in the 90s. Researchers are still in the midst of a Nimbadon dental exam to determine exactly what these Drop Bears ate, cause they definitely don’t think it was just leaves. 

Ok but tell me about the crocs

Yeah so get this, almost as a side note, an article reporting on the research drops a bombshell about the other types of fauna getting around Australia at the same time. And it feels like the kinda thing that should have a trigger warning or something. Can you imagine trying to co-exist with:

  • Flesh-eating kangaroos
  • Small to large marsupial lions
  • Giant-toothed platypus

As someone who lives in the Top End, the idea of a croc that can follow you up a tree is petrifying and I probably won’t go outside all week now, thanks. 

Luckily for us (although horribly foreboding) Professor Archer reckons the tree-climbing croc went extinct because of climate change and a two-degree rise in temperature that caused half of its habitat to disappear. 

‘So the message for us is if we let global temperatures rise the way they seem to be doing now, we can expect massive losses unfortunately, of very precious animals we’ve got today,’ Professor Archer said.


In conclusion, I’m not sure whether this is good news or bad news, but it’s definitely gonna keep me up tonight.


Feature image by Peter Schouten