Surely you've heard about the dreaded Drop Bear of Australia, which resembles a koala but drops down from trees to attack people. The most important thing to remember is that the drop bear only eats gullible tourists. On the other hand, the extinct marsupial named Thylacoleo carnifex was a real meat eater. And it was several times the size of a modern koala, with adults ranging from 220 to 280 pounds! These giant koalas died out during the last Ice Age, so this is one Australian creature you really do not have to worry about.
Humans undoubtedly saw Thylacoleo. The mammal was still very much alive when people arrived on Australia around 50,000 years ago, and there may even be Pleistocene art of the mammal. The mythical drop bear, however, didn’t appear as a tall tale until the 20th century, so there’s no link between what people actually saw and stories used to make tourists shudder at the sound of a creaking branch in the night. It’s convergence, but it’s a wonderful sort of convergence. So much of prehistoric life was so strange that we could have never imagined those species if we hadn’t come across their remains. The drop bear is a rare case when our species, in jest, stumbled upon something real and just as scary as our imaginations can muster.