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Turkey-Like Dinosaur in Australia

S u m m a r y :
A unique fossil has been discovered in Australia, that of a turkey-sized, herbivorous dinosaur. The new species is documented in a paper published in the journal PeerJ.

What Sets Australia Apart

Australia prizes itself for its rich and unique diversity of animals and plants, a trait that makes the country stand out on the global platform. So much that ‘outsiders’ like to joke about how it’s no big deal for locals to find poisonous snakes and spiders—just look at all the Internet memes aimed at this! Well, then, it’s no surprise that even the dinosaurs having once lived there were different. A new study documents a turkey-sized dinosaur whose fossil was discovered in rocks in the South East region of Australia.

What the new dinosaur species might have looked lie. Courtesy of the study authors.

Meet Diluvicursor pickeringi

The findings provides a greater insight into the diversity of the dinosaurs of Australia 113 millions years ago thanks to the discovery of a new species’ partial skeleton comprising tail and foot bones. The small, turkey-like dinosaur appears to have been herbivorous and bipedal. It belongs to the group called ornithopods that are believed to have existed in the great rift valley that used to lie between Australia and Antarctica. The ‘new’ (but actually very very very old) creature has been named Diluvicursor pickeringi.

The discovery was made back in 2005 by volunteer George Caspar. The latter found it eroding from a rock platform at Eric the Red West, near Cape Otway.

“Diluvicursor shows for the first time that there were at least two distinct body-types among closely related ornithopods in this part of Australia,” says lead author of the study, Matt Herne.

“One was lightly built with an extraordinarily long tail, while the other, Diluvicursor, was more solidly built, with a far shorter tail. Our preliminary reconstruction of the tail musculature of Diluvicursor suggests this dinosaur was a good runner, with powerful leg retracting muscles.”

Understanding Ancient Worlds

Herne is excited at the prospects of further investigation, building up from the new findings. According to him, understanding the ecology of these dinosaurs, from learning about the food they consumed to the way they moved about, in terms of their anatomy and environment will constitute great challenges for future research.

Eric the Red West is known for its importance in opening a window to what the ancient rift valley once looked like. The fossil vertebrates locked in that location are thought to be useful to painting that picture: they are buried deep at the base of a river together with tree stumps and logs.

Fossil vertebrate locality of Eric the Red West. Courtesy of the study authors.

“The carcass of the Diluvicursor pickeringi holotype appears to have become entangled in a log-jam at the bottom of this river,” says Herne. “The sizes of some of the logs in the deposit and the abundance of wood suggest the river traversed a well-forested floodplain. The logs preserved at the site are likely to represent conifer forests of trees within families still seen in Australia today.”

“Much of the fossil vertebrate material from Eric the Red West has yet to be described, so further dinosaurs and other exciting animals from this site are now anticipated.”


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