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Rare dinosaur fossil found in Australia

Donna Coutts, May 18, 2020 8:45AM Kids News

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Artist's impression of the elaphrosaur nicknamed Eric by the researchers. Picture: Ruairidh Duncan/Museums Victoria media_cameraArtist's impression of the elaphrosaur nicknamed Eric by the researchers. Picture: Ruairidh Duncan/Museums Victoria

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A volunteer archaeologist* has dug up the first fossil ever found in Australia of a long-necked dinosaur called elaphrosaur.

The rare find extends the global range of this cousin of T-rex and Velociraptor.

Experts know from Jurassic-era* fossils found in China that these theropods had teeth when young but a beak when an adult, indicating it may have begun life as a carnivorous predator but changed to be a plant eater as it matured. The theropod family of dinosaurs includes all of the known predators.

Elaphrosaur was about 2m long from head to tail, had short front arms with four fingers on each and would have been a fast runner. There are just three known elaphrosaur species from fossils found in China, Argentina and Tanzania.

A rampaging T-rex dinosaur in a scene from the film Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Therapods T-rex and elaphrosaur are cousins, but elaphrosaur was only 2m long and probably ate plants later in life. Picture: supplied media_cameraA rampaging T-rex dinosaur in a scene from the film Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Theropods T-rex and elaphrosaurs are cousins, but elaphrosaurs were only 2m long and probably ate plants later in life. Picture: supplied

The single vertebra — a bone from the spine — was found by Jessica Parker in 2015 at an archaeological dig site called Eric the Red West near Cape Otway in western Victoria.

Melbourne Museum runs this dig site looking for fossils in rock that is sometimes under sand and sea water.

After the 5cm elaphrosaur fossil was found, it ended up in the pterosaur* collection at the Melbourne Museum. Because of its size and shape, experts thought it was from a flying pterosaur rather than a dinosaur.

Several years later, Swinburne University PhD* student Adele Pentland was studying Australian pterosaurs and realised this fossil was different.

“I’d heard about this beautiful-looking pterosaur vertebra in the collection. It said pterosaur on the label and had been identified (as a pterosaur fossil) by the person who had prepared it,” Ms Pentland told The Guardian.

She said that pterosaur neck vertebra have a ball shape at the end closest to the head and a socket — a hollowed out shape — at the tail end. This bone had sockets at both ends.

Elaphrosaur vertebra found in Victoria. Picture: Ruairidh Duncan/Museums Victoria media_cameraElaphrosaur vertebra found in Victoria. Picture: Ruairidh Duncan/Museums Victoria

This single Australian fossil extends the known range of elaphrosaurs, leading experts to believe it was widespread and possibly global.

The find in southern Victoria also means it once lived within the Antarctic Circle, as 110 million years ago, Australia was much further south than it is now.

The results of the study of the elaphrosaur fossil are published in the journal Gondwana Research.

Progress at the Eric the Red West dig site has been hampered this year by the bushfires over summer and then COVID-19 restrictions but researchers believe it’s likely more elaphrosaur fossils will be found once work begins again.

A drawing of a type of pterosaur, Quetzalcoatlus. Pterosaurs weren’t dinosaurs nor birds. media_cameraA drawing of a type of pterosaur, Quetzalcoatlus. Pterosaurs weren’t dinosaurs nor birds.

GLOSSARY

  • archaeologist: expert who studies history by digging up fossils and artefacts
  • Jurassic-era: from a period in prehistoric times that went from 201 million years ago to 56 million years ago
  • pterosaur: flying reptiles (not dinosaurs) that lived 228 million to 66 million years ago
  • PhD: a course of university research also called a doctorate

EXTRA READING

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Giant parrot nicknamed ‘Squawkzilla’

Species of scary, fanged pterosaur found

Human-sized extinct penguin found

QUICK QUIZ

  1. Describe an elaphrosaur.
  2. Where was the fossil put after it was found?
  3. What is the difference between a pterosaur vertebra and an elaphrosaur vertebra?
  4. Why would something in Victoria have one been in the Antarctic Circle?
  5. What is the dig site called? Where is it?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Amendment
Previously, information about the elaphrosaur would have included incorrect details about the distribution of this species. Rather than re-writing every text that has information about them, write an amendment to the information that can be stuck into the cover of the book or added as a note at the bottom of the information if it is printed elsewhere.

Your amendment should include what was previously believed and what new evidence has been found and how that has changed our understanding to what is believed now. Make sure your amendment is written using language suitable for an information text.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science

2. Extension
Draw a labelled diagram of the elaphrosaur.

There are some details included in the article, but you might like to do some further research to help you get more information. You can include any other interesting facts about the elaphrosaur around the edge of your picture.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science

VCOP ACTIVITY
Aside from this, there is also this!

Brackets are a great literacy tool for adding aside comments, or comments that could be covered over and the sentence still makes sense. What’s inside the brackets is extra information.

They can be used for a variety of effects: to add more detail, to add humour, to connect with the reader etc.

My little brother, (the funniest kid I know) got himself into big trouble today.

Select 3 sentences from the article to add an aside comment to using brackets. Think about not only what you want to add to the sentence, but also what effect you are trying to create.

HAVE YOUR SAY: What do you dream of digging up at an archaeological site?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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