New Aussie dinosaur was a true monster

By Wes Judd 9 October 2013
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A massive new Australian dinosaur excavated in Queensland has wide hips and strange feet, say experts.

AUSTRALIA WAS HOME TO many more unique dinosaurs than previously thought, including one enormous new sauropod, researchers have revealed.

A team of palaeontologists analysing dinosaur bones discovered in Australia over the past decade say that while only four species of sauropod from Australia are officially named, the real number greatly exceeds that.

The team also revealed that bones found in 2005 are the pelvis and nine back vertebrae of a huge new type of sauropod – the best represented dinosaur in north-eastern Australia.

“There have been about 17 dinosaurs named from Australia, and many of them are just represented by single bones,” says Stephen Poropat, a palaeontologist based at Uppsala University in Sweden. “But with this one, all of the vertebrae are very close, sitting just in front of the pelvis. It’s definitely one animal.”

Stephen presented the findings last week at the 14th biennial Conference of Australasian Vertebrate Evolution, Palaeontology and Systematics, in Adelaide.

Wade: Australia’s most complete sauropod

The specimen, nicknamed Wade, has extremely wide hips and strange feet – the metacarpal bone which supports the sauropod’s thumb is much larger than that of other sauropods, suggesting it supported an enormous weight.

Wade was excavated back in 2005 by a team led by Scott Hocknull at Queensland Museum and David and Judy Elliot of the Australian Age of Dinosaurs museum in Winton, Queensland. Because of its size and uniqueness, the extraction of the bones from the rock that preserved them has taken nearly a decade.

Stephen handles the vertebrae of the new sauropod. (Credit: Judy Elliott/Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum)

Now that this process is nearing completion, Stephen can begin to connect the dots between past and recent excavations, and work out the connection between Australia’s sauropods and dinosaurs from the rest of the world.

“What I’m doing is looking at new and old specimens, trying to get a good idea of how the fauna changes over time,” Stephen told Australian Geographic.

He says the findings from a number of excavations over the last 10 years have yet to be prepared due to a backlog at the museum, but he expects many more dinosaur species will be revealed.

Aussie sauropod discovered in Queensland

Professor John Long, a palaeontologist at Flinders University in Adelaide, says the revelations are exciting. “They are finding some really terrific new fossils that have important bearing on the origins of the endemic Australian dinosaur fauna,” he says. “The large new sauropod dinosaur they have discovered was a true monster.”

Stephen says three of the named sauropod species, Diamantinasaurus, Wintonotitan and the new (as yet unnamed) species represented by Wade, all lived at around the same time, in the same area of Queensland.

“Every new specimen adds to our understanding of each species we have in Australia. If we can get an understanding of the anatomy of all of the different types of sauropod… we can make predictions about their food and habitat preferences.”

In addition to localised knowledge, palaeontologists are trying to better understand the prehistoric relationship between South America and Australia, which were both connected to Antarctica during the Cretaceous period.

“[Wade] has clear affinities or relationships to sauropods in South America and Africa,” says John. “So perhaps when the work is finished and the dinosaurs are fully described, it will help us better understand the true nature of our dinosaur faunas, and how they got here.”