Thursday, July 16, 2009

Newly Discovered Australian Dinosaurs!

By happy coincidence, my return to blogging has coincided with some exciting paleontological news!

Australian scientists recently hailed their country's most significant dinosaur discovery in decades, after three new species were unearthed in Queensland.

The discovery, analyzed in a 51-page report published in the peer-reviewed online science journal PLoS ONE, confirmed for the first time that Australia was once home to a flesh-eating dinosaur that was big, fast and terrifying. The newly exhumed predator, which stalked the Outback 98 million years ago, was a 500 kilogram (1,100 pound) killer with three slashing claws on its powerful forelimbs. Fossilized remnants of its limb bones, ribs, jaw and curved serrated teeth were found in Queensland state, along with bones of two other new species of gigantic, long-necked herbivores weighing up to 20 metric tons (22 tons) when the animals were alive.

The 5 meter (16-foot) long carnivore, Australovenator wintonensis (pronounced oss-tra-low-VEN'-ah-tor win-TON'-en-sis), has been nicknamed "Banjo," after the poet A.B. "Banjo" Paterson who in 1885 penned Australia's unofficial anthem "Waltzing Matilda". Banjo's Latin name means "Winton's Southern Hunter."

The cheetah of its time, Banjo was light and agile, a sort of Australian version to Velociraptor, but considerably larger and undoubtedly much more dangerous.

The other two discoveries were previously unknown types of long-necked titanosaur, the largest dinosaurs that ever lived, more than 16 meters (52 feet) in length. Wintonotitan wattsi (pronounced win-ton-oh-TIE-tan wot-SIGH), nicknamed Clancy, translates from Latin as "Watts' Winton Giant." Diamantinasaurus matildae (pronounced dye-man-TEEN'-ah-sor-us mah-TIL'-day) has been nicknamed Matilda; the Latin name translates as "Matilda's Diamantina River Lizard."

All three lived in the mid-Cretaceous period which extended from 145 million years to 65 million years ago. Interestingly, Matilda's and Banjo's bones were mingled. The scientists suspect Matilda may have become stuck in river mud and that the hungry Banjo fell into the same fatal trap while moving in for the kill.

Paleontologists have described Australia as new frontier in vertebrate paleontology and an untapped resource in the world's understanding of the dinosaur age because so few fossils of the ancient reptiles have been found there. This is largely because the continent is relatively flat and has long been geologically stable. The movement of tectonic plates in other continents, such as our American west, has forced layers of rock bearing fossils tens of millions of years old to the surface making dinosaurs much easier to find.

Expectantly, the vicious Banjo is enjoying the scientific spotlight more than the other two because it's the most complete meat-eating dinosaur ever found in Australia. Before Banjo, all of the carnivorous dinosaurs that had been unearthed were only known from a single bone or tooth. The new dinosaur is an exciting, very significant discovery and enough of the bones were found to confidently construct a complete skeleton.


  1. Oh thanks for this! I studied paleontology for a year in college. Loved it, but I think I'm a better writer then scientist. LOL

  2. Martin Powell--as I live and--wait, let me check...yep, as I live and breath. As the kids say, it was a blast from the past hearing from you. The last time we had speaks you were in Florida (is that right?) and I was in Sacramento. We've got a lot of catching up to do, and I don't know if this is the forum, so why don't you drop me a line at fred_schiller (at sign) and we can trade emails. I don't know about you, but I have plenty to report on.

    P.S. I have it on good authority (the Baptists I used to work with who would call me wicked when I would play with the dinosaur toys on my desk) that the only dinos that existed were on the television show The Flintstone:)

  3. Oh, and FYI the moon landings did NOT happen 40 years ago this summer. It was all done on a set in Buzz Aldrin's basement.

  4. Thanks for the dinosaur posting, I love dinosaurs! I've got a cousin in Queensland I should email him and ask if he'd heard about this (surely).