New dinosaurs discovered in ancient billabong

Winton, Australia – Three new dinosaurs have been discovered in Australia: two giant, herbivorous sauropods and one carnivorous theropod, all from the mid-Cretaceous period.

Australia’s a bit deprived when it comes to dinosaur fossils, compared with other similar-sized continents. However, the mid-Cretaceous Winton Formation in central western Queensland is an exception.

The latest find is the remains of three individual dinosaur skeletons, found during joint Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum and Queensland Museum digs. They represent three new species of dinosaur.

The carnivore, named Australovenator wintonensis and nicknamed ‘Banjo’, is the most complete meat-eating dinosaur found in Australia to date.

“The cheetah of his time, Banjo was light and agile,” said lead author Scott Hocknull. “He could run down most prey with ease over open ground. His most distinguishing feature was three large slashing claws on each hand. Unlike some theropods that have small arms  – think T rex – Banjo was different; his arms were a primary weapon. He’s Australia’s answer to Velociraptor, but many times bigger and more terrifying.”

The two plant-eating theropods, named Witonotitan wattsi (‘Clancy’) and Diamantinasaurus matildae (‘Matilda’), are different kinds of titanosaur – the largest type of dinosaur ever known to have lived. While Witonotitan represents a tall, graceful animal, which might have fitted into a giraffe-like niche, the stocky, solid Diamantinasaurus is a bit more like a hippo.

The authors agree that even though hundreds of bones have already been found at the site, these fossils are just the tip of the iceberg. “Many hundreds more fossils from this dig await preparation and there is much more material left to excavate,” they said.

Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum and Queensland Museum staff and volunteers will continue to dig at this and other sites in 2010.

The discoveries are described in detail in Plos One.

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