The discovery of two sets of long-necked dinosaur fossils is shedding new light on how these massive creatures originally made their way to Australia approximately 100 million years ago, according to new research published online this week in the journal Scientific Reports.
Based on the remains, which were found in Queensland, the new species were classified as both sauropods (large plant eaters with long necks and tiny heads) and titanosaurs (making them some of the biggest dinosaurs ever to roam the Earth), BBC News and the Los Angeles Times said.
One of the two creatures, Savannasaurus elliottorum, is a previously undiscovered species that was named after the Elliott family, who discovered its fossils on their property while they were herding sheep. The creature’s skeleton was assembled from 17 pallets worth of bones encased in rock, and according to BBC News, the process took more than a decade to complete.
The other creature, Diamantinasaurus matildae, is the first Australian sauropod for which skull fragments had been discovered, the Times reported. Lead researcher Dr. Stephen Poropot of the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum and his colleagues said that the specimen’s discovery has allowed them to learn more about the creature’s skeletal anatomy.
Unique species key to plotting sauropods’ migratory path
Thanks to the discovery of these new fossils, Dr. Poropot’s team was able to determine exactly when and how titanosaurs and other sauropods made their way to Australia. As it turns out, they only arrived approximately 100 million years ago – far later than other dinosaurs arrived there – and they most likely traveled from South America, by land, across Antarctica.
According to National Geographic, the researchers determined that these sauropods place on the family tree “strongly suggests” that they were descended from South American ancestors. If that were true, they would have traveled to their new home by land, and the only path available at the time would have been Antarctica, which thanks to global warming, would have been ice-free.
Dr. Poropat with the dinosaur’s vertebrae.
“By plotting the evolution of these sauropods against changes in the positions of the continents, we’ve possibly been able to constrain when these titanosaurs migrated,” Dr. Poropat explained to Nat Geo. However, he added that more analysis was required to fully understand these dinosaurs and that they now plan to comprehensively describe the specimens and confirm their species.
Savannasaurus has garnered the most interest, partially due to the fact that it is the new species, and partially due to the fact that it is rather unique among sauropods. As the authors explained, it was roughly 20 feet tall and weighed between 15-20 tons, but unlike other sauropods, it had very wide hips that probably gave it more stability. Furthermore, the creature’s bones were extremely thin in parts of its pelvis, and it likely had a sizable belly and complex digestive system.
Image credit: Reconstruction by Travis R. Tischler / © Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History
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