Jul 6, 2009 01:35 PM | 1
Paleontologists have dug up not one but three new dinosaur species in Australia, a continent that has turned up few large fossil finds. The mid-Cretaceous giants include two massive plant-eating titanosaurs—Witonotitan wattsi and Diamantinasaurus matildae—and a fearsome carnivorous theropod—Australovenator wintonesis—reported in a PLoS ONE study last week.
Living at a time when Australia was still partly connected to Antarctica—about 98 million years ago—the newly discovered Cretaceous-era killer is the first large prehistoric predator found in the Outback. It would have likely been light and speedy at about five meters (16 feet) and 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds).
“He’s Australia’s answer to Velociraptor, but many times bigger and more terrifying,” lead author and Queensland Museum paleontologist Scott Hocknull said in a statement. The A. wintonesis was equipped with three long claws on each hand. “Unlike some theropods that have small arms (think T. rex), [he] was different; his arms were a primary weapon,” noted Hocknull.
The long-necked herbivores, though likely more placid, would have been a force to be reckoned with as well, weighing in at as much as 20 metric tons each. That’s the mass of more than three and a half male African elephants.
Australia has long been quiet on the fossil front because few tectonic events have occurred to thrust old bones up into plain sight. But, the study authors write, “a better understanding of the Australian dinosaurian record is crucial to understanding the global paleobiography of dinosaurian groups.”
The last major large-dinosaur fossil discovery made in the country was in 1981, noted an Associated Press report. “Australia is one of the great untapped resources in our current understanding of life from the Age of Dinosaurs,” said Melbourne’s La Trobe University paleontologist Ben Kear, according to Reuters.
Image of Diamantinasaurus (left), Wintonotitan (middle) and Australovenator (right) © Travis R. Tischler/Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History/PLoS ONE/S. Hocknull, M. White, T. Tischler, A. Cook, N. Calleja,T. Sloan, D. Elliott
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