July 6, 2009
Australia has always been a tough place for dinosaur paleontologists to work. Aside from the harsh conditions, dinosaur skeletons found “down under” are often extremely fragmentary. A bit of leg, a claw, a rib, a toe bone; often there is not much more to be found of dinosaurs that once roamed the southern continent. A new paper published in the journal PLoS ONE, however, describes three new dinosaurs represented by much more than just scraps.
Studied by a team of Australian paleontologists, the new specimens consist of two sauropod dinosaurs and an Allosaurus-like predator from the middle of the Cretaceous, about 112 to 99 million years ago. The sauropods, named Wintonotitan wattsi (“Clancy”) and Diamantinasaurus matildae (“Matilda”), are known from parts of the hips, leg bones, and (in the case of Wintonotitan) much of the tail. The predatory dinosaur, called Australovenator (“Banjo”), is represented by the hands, forearms, legs, a few ribs and part of the lower jaw. It might not sound like much at first, but it is pretty exceptional!
The researchers described each of these new dinosaurs in exquisite detail, but at a more general level the new beasts have greatly expand our understanding of what the Middle Cretaceous of Australia was like. There were at least two large sauropods related to the titanosaurs and a predatory dinosaur that was closely related to the big-headed terrors known as carcharadontosaurids. Furthermore, these dinosaurs show that Australia probably had a very interesting mix of dinosaur types during the Early Cretaceous. There were dinosaurs that were more evolutionarily specialized living alongside others that more closely resembled the ancestral stock that the other dinosaurs evolved from. More discoveries will be needed to help fill in the big-picture, but the announcement of these three dinosaurs is a stunning victory for Australian paleontologists.
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