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Queensland Digs Yield Three New Kings of the Cretaceous

It is rare for three new dinosaur species to be revealed in a single week and rarer still for them to be described in a single published article. And yet in their article, New Mid-Cretaceous (Latest Albian) Dinosaurs from Winton, Queensland, Australia, published today in PLoS ONE, Scott Hocknull and colleagues at the Queensland Museum and the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History, have done just that (more details).

Artistic Representations of the Dinosaurs
Australovenator (top); Wintonotitan (middle); Diamantinasaurus (bottom). Artwork by: T. Tischler, Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History. This image appears as Figure 40 in the published article; under the terms of our Open Access license, any reuse should cite the authors and journal

Compared to similar-sized continents like Africa and South America, Australia’s dinosaurian fossil record is very poor. However, the mid-Cretaceous Winton Formation in Queensland has recently yielded many fossil sites with great potential for the discovery of new dinosaurs. Between 2006 and 2009, excavations have produced many well-preserved dinosaur fossils, as well as the remains of other contemporaneous fauna.

Three of these fossils are described in the PLoS ONE article. They represent three new genera and species of dinosaur: two giant, plant-eating sauropods and a carnivorous theropod (more images).

The meat-eater, named by the authors on the paper Australovenator wintonensis (nicknamed “Banjo”), is the most complete meat-eating dinosaur ever found in Australia and sheds light on the ancestry of the largest-ever meat-eating dinosaurs, the carcharodontosaurs. Hocknull likens Banjo to a much bigger, much more terrifying version of Velociraptor. Banjo was light and agile with three large claws on each hand and used his arms as a primary weapon (unlike some theropods with small arms like T. rex).

The two herbivores, named Witonotitan wattsi (“Clancy”) and Diamantinasaurus matildae (“Matilda”), are different kinds of titanosaur (the largest type of dinosaur ever to have lived). While Witonotitan represents a tall, gracile, giraffe-like animal, the stocky, solid Diamantinasaurus represents a more hippo-like species.

This is a well-written, well-illustrated paper that makes a major contribution to dinosaurian paleontology on the continent of Australia, which has few specimens of this quality,” said the paper’s Academic Editor, Professor Paul Sereno. “Australia, a continent adrift during the Cretaceous period, now has some new and very interesting dinosaurs on board.”

The three dinosaurs are nicknamed after characters from a world-famous, Australian poet, Banjo Patterson, who composed the song Waltzing Matilda in Winton, where the fossils were found. In a quirky twist of fate, Waltzing Matilda describes the demise of a swag-man, who steals a jumbuck (sheep) but has to leap into a billabong (a small oxbow lake) to avoid being caught by the police. He then drowns in the billabong along with the sheep.

Matilda and Banjo were found buried together in a 98-million-year-old billabong, although whether they died together or got stuck in the mud together remains a mystery; however, echoing the song, both predator and possible prey met their end at the bottom of a billabong.

Both Banjo and Matilda were prepared by the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum, thanks to thousands of hours of volunteer work and philanthropy.

“This is the only place in Australia where you can come off the street and be taught to be a palaeontologist and find, excavate and prepare your own part of Australian natural history,” said Hocknull.

This collaborative effort links closely with PLoS ONE’s philosophy of making science freely accessible to the general public. We asked Hocknull why he chose to submit the research to PLoS ONE and he responded as follows:

One of my major motivations for submitting to PLoS ONE was the fact that my research will reach a much wider community, including the hundreds of volunteers and public who gave their time and money to the development of natural history collections. They are the backbone of our work (excuse the pun) and they usually never get to see their final product because they rarely subscribe to scientific journals.”

The fossils were unveiled at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History in Queensland, Australia on July 3 by Anna Bligh, the Premier of Queensland.

If you’re interested in this PLoS ONE article, you may also like to read some of the articles in our Paleontology Collection.

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