New dinosaur species in australia found

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

They were found entwined in an ancient Australian billabong - predator and prey preserved forever.

"Banjo" was a vicious hunter, a 5m-long killer of the times that chased down its victims over a flat, rolling landscape filled with ferns and conifers about 98 million years ago.

When Banjo - scientific name australovenator wintonensis - caught the smaller plant-eating dinosaurs it hunted, the claws came out - brutal daggers attached to its "hands" that could flail a belly like a can opener. With 36 razor teeth on its bottom jaw, it cut through tough skin, muscle and tendons.

But Banjo would never pass up an easy feed. Scott Hocknull, the dinosaur hunter who yesterday unveiled Australia's most important dinosaurs fossil finds, believes that is why the carnivore's bones were discovered mixed up with those of "Matilda", a massive plant-eating dinosaur.

A third dinosaur, nicknamed "Clancy", was found about 4km away at Winton, a rich fossil hunting area in central Queensland.

Mr Hocknull said Banjo was Australia's version of the velociraptor, made famous in Jurassic Park.

"Ours is bigger and meaner. In reality velociraptor was turkey-sized," Queensland Museum senior curator of geosciences Mr Hocknull said yesterday.

"Matilda probably got stuck in the mud and Banjo has come along, seen a free meal and got stuck too.

"Matilda was a plant eater 15m or 16m long which weighed about 20 tonnes. We think australovenator normally hunted solo and would run down dinosaurs smaller than it was but they could have also formed packs to take on really big prey.

"There's fossil footprints in the same area showing a dinosaur stampede with a carnivore following."

Clancy was a different giant vegetarian, also about 16m long but taller and more slender than Matilda.

"Clancy was like a giraffe of the times and Matilda a hippo. They filled different niches, able to reach different plants," Mr Hocknull, 31, said.

All three are new to science, the most complete large dinosaur bones found in Australia and the first major find in more than 25 years.

They are also justification for Mr Hocknull's almost life-long obsession with Australian dinosaurs.

"When I became fascinated as a teenager I was told you had to go overseas to discover major dinosaurs and make a name because no one found much here," he said.

The dinosaurs have been nicknamed after characters created by poet Banjo Paterson.


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