July 3, 2009

Three New Dino Species Uncovered in Australia

Scientists in Australia have reported the discovery of three new species, including one agile predator that lived 98 million years ago.

Writing in the peer-reviewed journal, PLoS ONE, Scott Hocknull and colleagues at the Queensland Museum and the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History noted the discovery of two large herbivorous sauropods and one carnivorous theropod in the Winton Formation in eastern Australia.

Australia doesn't have a noteworthy fossil record, and many paleontologists see the continent's Winton Formation in Queensland as the frontier of untapped potential.

Hocknull and colleagues discovered the most complete meat-eating dinosaur in Australia to date. The massive Australovenator wintonensis was "the cheetah of his time," said Hocknull, who nicknamed the creature "Banjo".

"He could run down most prey with ease over open ground. His most distinguishing feature was three large slashing claws on each hand. Unlike some theropods that have small arms (think T. rex), Banjo was different; his arms were a primary weapon."

"He's Australia's answer to Velociraptor, but many times bigger and more terrifying."

Prior to the discovery of Banjo's remains, researchers had wrongly classified an ankle bone located in Victoria. They had first believed that it belonged to a dwarf Allosaurus, but the recent find allowed them to match the mysterious bone with the Australovenator.

In addition to Banjo, researchers also detail the finds of "Clancy", or Witonotitan wattsi, and "Matilda", or Diamantinasaurus matildae, both of which were plant-eating theropods.

Each of the three nicknames for the dinosaurs was derived from the works of a famous Australian poet. Banjo Patterson composed Waltzing Matilda in 1885 in Winton, where the song was also first performed (and where the fossils were discovered). Waltzing Matilda is now considered to be Australia's national song.

"The jewel in the crown for us is Banjo because it's the most complete meat-eating dinosaur ever found in Australia," Hocknull told the Associated Press.

"All of the carnivorous dinosaurs that we've had in the past were only known from a single bone or tooth."

Researchers said even more discoveries are sure to lie in the region.

"Many hundreds more fossils from this dig await preparation and there is much more material left to excavate," they said.


Image Credit: In this undated photo supplied by Queensland Museum, paleontologist
Scott Hocknull analyses the Diamantinasaurus fossils in Winton, in
central Queensland, Australia. Scientists have confirmed for the first
time that Australia was once home to a dinosaur that was big, fast and
terrifying, and has a name like something from an Arnold Schwazennegger
movie. Meet the Australovenator


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