was a very small mammal that lived during the Early Cretaceous (around 125-130 million years ago). It was named after Dr Barry Bishop and Dr Frank Whitmore of the National Geographic Society's Research and Exploration Committee who were instrumental in funding a long-term project aiming to find mammal and bird fossils in Victoria.
The rocks Bishops
was found in were deposited by streams in a rift valley that formed as Australia separated from Antarctica. During the Cretaceous Victoria was within the Antarctic Circle and would have been covered by cool forests. The holotype specimen, a lower jaw (P 210075), was found in 2000 by volunteers at a dig near Inverloch, Victoria.
belongs to an extinct family of mammals called the Ausktribosphenidae. Current research indicates they are probably more closely related to placental mammals than to marsupials or monotremes but their relationships are still being investigated. When it was alive, Bishops whitmorei
would have looked like an antechinus or a shrew and like them it likely ate insects. It was tiny, being just 5 cm long.
For a long time it was thought that marsupials and monotremes were more common in Australia than anywhere else in the world because they'd arrived before placentals so had the chance to become established and adapted to the environment. The oldest known marsupial fossils in Australia come from the early Eocene (around 55 million years ago) but placental mammals in Australia were only definitively known from the last few million years. The discovery of Bishops whitmorei
in Victorian rocks 125-130 million years old suggests placental mammals may have been in Australia not just earlier than previously thought, but also long before marsupials, challenging accepted ideas about mammal evolution.
is one of eight candidates for Victoria's fossil emblem.