Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Globe Trotting Dinosaurs Of The Cretaceous

A artist's impression of the ceratosaur hunting
in what will become Melbourne
During the late Cretaceous, some of the most ferocious predators to have ever walked the earth evolved: Tyrannosaurus, Spinosaurus, Tarbosaurus - a vicious chain of muscle and teeth. Their remains have been found across the Americas, Europe and Asia. Yet there is one continent, discounting the poles, where the presence of the giant, reptilian carnivores was far weaker: Oceania.

The 125 million year old ankle bone
In fact, dinosaur remains down under are comparatively rare. So any single discovery is of the utmost importance. Now fossil remains have been identified which could possibly be the most significant since the first dinosaur bones were discovered on the Southern continent.

In 2006, a bone fragment was unearthed by an amateur palaeontologist near the coastal town of San Remo, 87 kilometres from Melbourne. Just 6 centimeters in length, its identity was a mystery.

It was analysed by palaeontologist Erich Fitzgerald in 2012. Results showed that the bone fragment was in fact an ankle, 125 million years old. What is interesting is the creature it came from. The owner was a species of meat-eating dinosaur belonging to a group of reptilian predators known as the ceratosaurs.

'These meat-eating dinosaurs in Australia represent globe-trotting groups which spread out across the world before the continents began to separate' said Fitzgerald. 'We've got representatives of groups that are actually found everywhere else. We really have this melting pot where it was really a cosmopolitan bunch of dinosaurs which called Australia home 125 million years ago.'

While small, these creatures were highly succesful. Tough and able to find food in all environments, they quickly spread across the surface of the Earth. 'Until now, this group of dinosaurs has been strangely absent from Australia, but now at last we know they were here confirming their global distribution,' added Fitzgerald. As more discoveries are made, Mesozoic Australia will become clearer, and while the current picture is still limited, it is certainly improving.