Winton dinosaur field reveals biggest carnivorous dinosaur ever found in Australia

Sunday, October 25, 2020

 

An artist's impression of Australovenator preparing to eat its prey.(Travis Tischler)

Bones from the largest theropod dinosaur ever discovered in Australia have been uncovered in western Queensland.

Key points:

  • Theropods could be up to 2 metres high and 7 metres long
  • The latest discovery closely resembles a species found nearby in 2006
  • It had large hands with what Dr White called "recurved claws"

They were initially uncovered in 2017 at the now world-famous dinosaur fossil field in Winton, but were only recently identified as most likely belonging to the Australovenator wintonensis species, discovered in 2006.

Lead researcher Dr Matt White from the University of New England said when the bones were first uncovered "they didn't look like much at all".

"We had a really good look through all of the fragments and that's when I got quite excited because we started to find the distal elements of bones that resembled a theropod, which are extremely rare," he said.

Theropods are a large group of bipedal and largely carnivorous dinosaurs, including the Velociraptor and Tyrannosaurus rex.

The bones cannot be definitively identified to a species, but closely resemble an Australovenator wintonensis specimen found less than 2 kilometres away in 2006.

Dr White said the dinosaurs could be up to 2 metres high, between 5 to 7 metres long, and were similar in appearance to the velociraptors depicted in the film Jurassic Park.

"Except the claws are on the hands, not the feet," he said.

"It had quite large hands, but on each hand it had two recurved claws that were quite large … and like birds you have a horny sheath over the top so they would have ended up round about close to 25 to 30 centimetres."

Hunter or scavenger?

Dr White said while it was hard to determine a dinosaur's hunting behaviour based on its skeleton, Australovenator was probably some kind of predator.

He said it had two claws on each hand "used for grappling prey".

Dr White said they may also have done some scavenging.

"If they've got an easy feed, they probably would have had an easy feed."

He said there were almost certainly many of them hunting the same prey.

"Given the amount of teeth we've found [it is] probably not just one feasting on a carcass, it would have been two or three."

Dr White said sauropods — long-necked, quadrupedal herbivores — were almost certainly Australovenator's main prey.

"Every sauropod site that we have dug in over the years, we find these isolated shed teeth," he said.

"We haven't really found teeth that are much bigger than Australovenator, so these things would have been the top carnivore.

"We just haven't found any other evidence of anything larger than these guys, Australia-wide."

Did dinosaurs have feathers?

Dr White said whether this group of dinosaurs had feathers was still hotly debated among members of the scientific community.

"There's two major groups [of theropods] — you've got your more primitive Tetanurans where Allosaurus is, and then have your Coelurosaurs where you have Tyrannosaurus."

He said the Tyrannosaurus was a member of the group that probably had feathers.

"I suspect it is within the more primitive group, but it is still heavily debated."

Dr White said this was one of the reasons each new dinosaur find was important, because it brought scientists closer to answering such questions.

"We can start to work out, well — did they have feathers? Which group they sat in, and unfortunately the preservation out at Winton is not good enough to preserve feathers."

The newly identified theropod bones are on display at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum near Winton.


 
Australoventors fed on larger herbivores.(Travis Tischler)

Murusraptor

Thursday, May 28, 2020



By Gemma Tarlach

Sexy Beast of the Week: Murusraptor barrosaensis, the newest member of the megaraptor gang. The Patagonian predator of 80 million years ago was larger but had a more fine-boned build than other megaraptorids. Credit: Jan Sovak. Want to find some awesome dinosaur species new to science? Head south. South America is clearly the place to be these days, with Patagonian predator Murusraptor barrosaensis the latest intriguingly odd animal to stomp onto the paleoscene. Like fellow Argentine Gualicho shinyae, announced last week, Murusraptor is known from the partial skeleton of a single specimen. And while Gualicho made headlines for its shorty-short forelimbs, Murusraptor is like those models in perfume ads: a leggy mystery that's got people intrigued.

Murusraptor is a large, slender megaraptorid. You may read "raptor" and think oh, velociraptor*, bitey bitey, clever girl, but, while megaraptorids did have big ol' claws, they're not closely related to the stars of the Jurassic Park movies. (*Yes, I know Hollywood's idea of a velociraptor is, shall we say, just a bit outsized when compared with the fossil record, but let's not have that discussion right here and right now, 'k?) Megaraptorids were a group of carnivorous dinosaurs from the Cretaceous that, in addition to those claws, had some sweet pneumatization action going on. A number of their bones were essentially hollow, or at least partly so, full of air pockets. Murusaptor is notably, shall we say, aerated. It's a trait also seen in most modern birds and some other dinosaurs, particularly those most closely related to birds. (Don't feel too left out, puny human: those sinus cavities of yours, currently all stuffed up from summer allergies, are another example of pneumatization.) Airy bones are one reason paleontologists have found it challenging to determine where megaraptorids sit in the family tree of theropods, a diverse bunch of mostly carnivorous, bipedal dinosaurs spanning more than 230 million years, from the earliest dinos to that chicken you're eating for dinner. Within Theropoda, the megaraptorids have variously been classified as allosaurid, coelurosaurid and, more specifically within the coelurosaurs, as tyrannosaurids. Without getting too deep into the -id of it all, megaraptors are all over the map in terms of how they might be related to other dinosaurs. More on that in a bit. Murusraptor presented additional opportunities for head-scratching. Even the authors of the first paper on the animal, published today in the open-access journal PLOS One, weren't sure what they'd dug up.

Co-author Philip Currie of the University of Alberta, one of the world's leading paleontologists, admits Murusraptor initially had him stumped. Sending a quick email as he headed back into the field, Currie shared the team's process of figuring out what they had on their hands: "The animal completely puzzled us when we found it because it is an animal as large as a tyrannosaur like Albertosaurus [about 30 feet long], but was as pneumatic as an oviraptorosaur [a very bird-like bunch of dinos]...." Currie went on to explain that the dinosaur had other traits that might have placed it as a primitive, or basal, maniraptor (the line which eventually led to birds) or even a spinosaurid, a particularly whacky group of crocodilian-skulled dinosaurs that includes the largest predatory dinosaur ever known.

The fossilized bones of Murusraptor found by the team and shown here in white include much of the rear cranium. The braincase in particular is well-preserved and allowed researchers to determine the animal was not fully mature at time of death. Credit: Coria et al (2016) Only after all the fossils of the specimen — unearthed more than a decade ago — were prepped and analyzed did the team feel comfortable assigning Murusraptor to the megaraptor group. Currie and lead author Rodolfo Coria, another megafigure in paleontology, used the new data gleaned from analyzing Murusraptor to see if it would help them answer, once and for all, where on the family tree megaraptorids belonged. Spoiler alert: it didn't. When they compared specific traits of megaraptorids, including Murusraptor, with those of other dinosaurs, slight tweaks to the modeling process yielded two very different results. In other words, the jury is still out on whether these animals are allosaurids or tyrannosaurids.

While we're still not sure where Murusraptor and the other megaraptorids fit in the dinosaur evolution story, this specimen is exciting because it includes a fair chunk of the cranium. In particular, the braincase is beautifully preserved. In fact, it was in such great shape that the team was able to see signs of infection on the left side of the skull — no word on whether the boo-boo was responsible for the animal's death, however. Believed to be just over 21 feet long, the Murusraptor specimen was a juvenile — researchers were able to determine that because the bones of the rear skull, while knitted together as in adults, still showed their seams. That's a tip-off that the animal had not yet reached full maturity. Look for more news about that gorgeous braincase soon. For now, initial analysis of the cranium suggests Murusraptor may have had a crest on the top of its head. Show-off.

Murusraptor and last week's dino-breakout Gualicho were found in the same large basin in west-central Argentina, an area centered around the small city of Plaza Huincul. The animals were separated by millions of years, however: Murusraptor is about 80 million years old, while Gualicho is 10-14 million years older. The animals also represent different branches of the theropod family tree. They're just the latest pair of predators to emerge from the neighborhood, in addition to a number of other dinosaurs and other extinct animals discovered there. "Off the top of my head I would guess that the sites are within a hundred kilometers of each other," notes Currie. "This area (about 200 km radius around Plaza Huincul) is definitely the hot spot for dinosaurs in South America."

New dinosaur fossil pushes evolution of gigantism in sauropods back 30 million years

Friday, May 1, 2020


A new dinosaur called Ingentia prima appeared to have a air sacs in its neck, shown in this artist's impression in green, and walked on flexed feet. (Supplied: Jorge A. González)

ABC Science By science reporter Belinda Smith

Think of a plant-eating dinosaur, and chances are you picture something along the lines of a brachiosaurus.

These iconic giants belonged to a group of dinosaurs called sauropods — massive creatures with thick, column-like legs and a long neck and tail.

Now, the discovery of a new dinosaur species suggests gigantism in sauropods evolved about 30 million years earlier than previously thought.

The newly uncovered bones, belonging to a plant-eater dubbed Ingentia prima, also suggest that there were a couple of different ways these giant dinosaurs evolved.

The fossil find was unveiled in Nature Ecology and Evolution today by an Argentinian crew led by National University of San Juan palaeontologist Cecilia Apaldetti.

"Now we are rethinking the evolution of giant size in dinosaurs," Dr Apaldetti said.
Most palaeontologists think sauropod dinosaurs first appeared on the scene in the early Jurassic period, starting with the 11-metre Vulcanodon about 180 million years ago.

The discovery of the Ingentia prima — a dinosaur that existed about 205 million years ago and was about 8-10 metres long — has challenged this idea.

But whether the new dinosaur walked on two legs or four, and was a sauropod at all, is up for debate.

The story of Ingentia prima starts with a cattle farmer in northern Argentina.
"He [told the local museum], 'I have seen bones inside rocks but they don't seem to be from cows'," Dr Apaldetti said.

When she and her colleagues went to check them out, they found a rich trove of fossils dating back to the Triassic and Jurassic periods, or 190 million to 210 million years ago.

Today, the region is dry and scrubby. But back when the fossilised specimens were living, breathing animals, it was part of the supercontinent Pangaea.

Being near the equator, the climate was warm with periodic rains, Dr Apaldetti said: "Something similar to a current savannah, probably with a large amount of shrubs to satisfy the great herbivores of that time."

Among the fossilised remains, in 2015 they found a new dinosaur species — Ingentia prima — alongside other, previously known relatives called Lessemsaurus sauropoides.

Weighing in at an estimated 7–10 tonnes, both dinosaurs sported a long neck and tail, as well as air sacs in their body, like later sauropods did.


 Ingentia prima, a new dinosaur species discovered in Argentina, was about 8 to 10 metres long.(Supplied: Jorge A Gonz├ílez)

Air sacs are thought to help keep the massive beasts cool.

But unlike their more recent four-legged counterparts, which stood on straight tree-trunk-like legs, Ingentia prima seemed to stand on flexed feet.

Their bones also showed signs of seasonal growth, also different to how palaeontologists think later sauropods grew.

Dinosaurs like brachiosaurus, Dr Apaldetti said, probably grew at a fairly rapid but consistent rate.

Ingentia prima's bones show it grew even faster at times, but slowed at others.
"With this discovery we can see that the first steps toward gigantism occurred 30 million years before the giants dominated practically the entire planet," Dr Apaldetti said.

"It [also] shows that there were other ways to be giant, and not necessarily implied the same anatomical changes that all other giants such as the titanosaurs required."
Four legs or two?

But Steve Salisbury, a palaeontologist at the University of Queensland who was not involved with the study, isn't convinced that Ingentia prima was a sauropod.

Rather than walking on four legs, he suspects they probably walked on two.

Scientists are hopeful the discovery of a fossilised dinosaur skeleton in outback Queensland will shed light on what was on the menu around 95 million years ago.

"Dinosaurs similar to Ingentia prima are typically referred to as 'basal sauropodomorphs', meaning they are on the side of the dinosaurian family tree that includes sauropods, but they are not there quite yet," he said.

"Most basal sauropodomorphs are thought to have walked on their hind legs like their meat-eating cousins, the theropods, but had a long neck and ate plants, like their descendants, the sauropods."

The new fossil haul was missing a few vital bones, such as Ingentia prima's hip, thigh bone and most of the lower leg.

Without them, Dr Salisbury said, it's hard to gauge the animal's posture.

And based on the few bones reported in the paper, "Ingentia prima's hand doesn't look ideal for putting on the ground," he added.

"They don't have a lot of the skeleton and, overall, the bits that are there don't look all that different from other basal sauropodomorphs."

So Ingentia might have been able to get on all fours, but probably spent most of its time on two legs — a little like another basal sauropodomorph that lived about 210 million years ago called Plateosaurus engelhardti, which is known from much more complete material.

"Although Ingentia prima looks like it was large for a basal sauropodomorph, unfortunately, they just don't have enough in this paper to make it appear too different to something like Plateosaurus engelhardti, and it's pretty much agreed that it was bipedal," he said.

"If that's the case, the transition to four-legged locomotion must have happened later."



African Dinosaur Spinosaurus

Thursday, April 30, 2020



Fossil discovery proves massive African dinosaur Spinosaurus was actually a semi-aquatic 'river monster'

Newly discovered bones from the huge African predator Spinosaurus prove it could swim, scientists say, and that the existence of this "river monster" shows some non-bird dinosaurs invaded the aquatic realm.

Scientists this week announced the discovery of fossil bones from the tail of ​Spinosaurus ("spine lizard"), found in south-east Morocco, which they said provided a deeper understanding of the appearance, lifestyle and capabilities of the longest meat-eating dinosaur on record.

"Spinosaurus had a highly specialised tail — a propulsive structure that would have allowed this river monster to actively pursue prey in the water column," University of Detroit Mercy palaeontologist and anatomist Nizar Ibrahim, lead author of the study published in the journal Nature, said.

Spinosaurus, which lived 95 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period, was a highly unusual dinosaur and not just because of its staggering dimensions of up to 15 meters long and more than 6,000 kilograms.

The anatomy of Spinosaurus had remained mysterious for decades after crucial fossils were destroyed during World War II, until the 2008 discovery of the Morocco skeleton. Extraction of these additional tail bones has been ongoing since 2015.

Its tail was flexible, with a large surface area thanks to a series of tall neural spines — different from the stiff and tapering tails of other carnivorous dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus rex — indicating Spinosaurus and its close relatives engaged in tail-propelled locomotion unlike any other dinosaurs.

Laboratory experiments in which a plastic model of the Spinosaurus tail was attached to a robotic swimming device showed that the tail could move laterally to create thrust and power the animal through water like a crocodile, according to Harvard University fish biologist and biomechanist George Lauder, a study co-author.

This indicates Spinosaurus terrorised rivers and river banks as a semi-aquatic animal, not merely wading into the water waiting for fish to swim by. It may have eaten huge fish, including sharks.

"This discovery overturns decades-old ideas that non-bird dinosaurs were restricted to terrestrial environments," Harvard University vertebrate palaeontologist and biomechanist Stephanie Pierce, another study co-author, said.

    "So, yes, we believe that this discovery does indeed revolutionise our understanding of dinosaur biology."

Spinosaurus still was able to move on land and lay eggs there, perhaps walking on four legs rather than two like other meat-eating dinosaurs.

"But it had so many adaptations to an aquatic existence — nostrils high on the skull and further back from the tip, flat-bottomed toe bones and claws, dense and thickened bone for buoyancy control, and this newly discovered tail form — that it would have been at least as aquatic as Nile Crocodiles," University of Portsmouth palaeontologist and study co-author David Martill said.

Ms Pierce said it "just might topple T-rex as the most famous and exciting meat-eating dinosaur".

Zombie Dragon

Wednesday, November 27, 2019




"I thought there were few pleasures left in the world that I had not already experienced, certainly none that were worth expending any effort towards. I must confess, though, to the great thrill I felt when I first bound Agorak the Silent to my will. As delicious as it was, it paled in comparison to the joy I felt when I finally had the opportunity to unleash him on my enemies. Nothing quite like a Dragon to put fear into the hearts of Men. So much better if he's Undead!"
Constatin von Carstein, Vampire Lord.
 
Zombie Dragons are the reanimated corpses of long-dead Dragons that were raised from their resting place within the Plain of Bones by the use of powerful Dark Magic.

he Plain of Bones is a harsh and lifeless landscape of multicoloured sand and tainted rock located to the east of the Worlds Edge Mountains, from which protrude huge rib cages of ancient primeval Dragons. This is the place where Dragons of ancient times once came to die, to rest their bones amongst those of their ancestors as they had done for millions of years, before any other sentient beings walked the world.

Here lies the bones of the great ancestral Dragons: skulls the size of castle towers lie mingled with leg bones larger than the mast of an Imperial warship. These bones date from the ancients days of the draconic race. Though today's Dragons are of a lesser breed, they are still incomparably mightier than other races of the world. However, following the arrival of Chaos, the Plain of Bones has since become saturated with large amounts of Dark Magic. This magic eventually contaminated the remains of these Dragons, forcing them to rise once more as the first Zombie Dragons.

Ever since then, Vampires and powerful Necromancers of all kinds have been known to take a pilgrimage to this ancient landscape where they pick through one amongst many Dragon remains. Once he finds a suitable corpse, the Vampire or Necromancer who use the excess Dark Magic that contaminates the land to resurrect the Dragon back to life as his eternal combat mount. These once majestic creatures stagger upright once more with a great despairing roar before stooping to allow their new master to ride atop their powerful shoulders.
 
Animated by Dark Magic, a Zombie Dragon is borne aloft by great tattered wings, its body covered with thick, withered hide. Though in life it once breathed fire capable of melting steel, a Zombie Dragon can only belch forth a cloud of pestilent gas which strips flesh from bones and corrodes armour. A Zombie Dragon's claws and sword-like teeth remain as deadly as they ever were, and is still capable of ripping an armoured knight in half and swallowing his warhorse in one motion. When such a monster is used as a steed by a powerful Vampire Lord, even the greatest heroes quail before the raw might of undeath, for the combined might of Vampire and his Undead Dragon is enough to break the back of any army sent against them. Wreathed in a fog of rot and surrounded by swarms of blood-hungry flies, a Zombie Dragon can turn the tide of a battle purely by dint of its horrific presence.