The newly-discovered species Savannasaurus elliottorum was first spotted way back in 2005, but it’s only now that scientists have an idea of what to make of this unusual long-necked giant. It also appears that this dinosaur, which was discovered in Queensland, Australia, has the most complete sauropod skeleton among those discovered Down Under. And even more impressive is how this species had made an impressive migration, traveling from a then-ice-free Antarctica to Australia, where it eventually settled.
A new study published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports hints that sauropods, including the particularly gigantic titanosaurs, first arrived in Australia about 100 million years ago. This is substantially later than when other dinosaur families had first lived in the continent.
Welcome Savannasaurus elliottorum! Great job Poropat et al. 2016! pic.twitter.com/fLNFBrF9w7— Cary Woodruff (@DoubleBeam) October 20, 2016
According to a report on the study from National Geographic, Australian sauropods such as Savannasaurus elliottorum may have also arrived on the continent via South America, at a time when the positions of both drifting continents were similar to their current ones. As for how they got to Australia, the researchers believe they got there by land by crossing Antarctica, which was then ice-free due to a natural global warming event.
“By plotting the evolution of these sauropods against changes in the positions of the continents, we’ve possibly been able to constrain when these titanosaurs migrated,” said Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum paleontologist Stephen Poropat, the study’s lead author.
Also providing comment on the unusual voyage of Savannasaurus elliottorum was fellow researcher and study co-author Paul Upchurch. His statement, as quoted by Gizmodo, adds more information on the possible timeline of the new species’ arrival in Australia.
“We suspect that the ancestor of Savannasaurus was from South America, but that it could not and did not enter Australia until approximately 105 million years ago. At this time global average temperatures increased allowing sauropods to traverse landmasses at polar latitudes.”
Savannasaurus elliottorum got its name from its unlikely discoverer, and the place where he found its bones. The dinosaur’s bones were originally found in 2005 by sheep farmer David Elliott, who had spotted them in a grassland in eastern Australia. A series of excavations that year had revealed more bones, and National Geographic says that it had taken several years before the bones were freed from their casing, and even more years afterward for the researchers to study what had been found. As such, it took a good 11 years for this dinosaur to get an official identity as a new species.
Like the average titanosaur, Savannasaurus elliottorum was a giant plant-eating dinosaur, standing approximately 20 feet tall, measuring some 45 feet long, and weighing between 15 to 20 tons. National Geographic noted that the animal’s bones were hollow and that it also had air sacs, thus marking an “evolutionary attempt” for the dinosaur to make itself lighter. But what sets it apart from its relatives is its unusually wide hips, which Upchurch believes gave it more flexibility and made it sturdier. It also likely had a big belly and may have been capable of sucking up more nutrients from food than smaller, slimmer titanosaurs.
“There are places where the bones are paper-thin,” Upchurch added, pointing out another strange aspect of Savannasaurus. “I’ve never seen such a thin sheet of bone in a sauropod pelvis.”
The researchers’ work is far from done, however. According to Poropat, his team will keep working on describing the newly discovered fossils, which, according to SlashGear, also include what could be new bones belonging to Diamantinasaurus matildae. Upchurch added that the team is also tweaking the existing titanosaur family tree to include Savannasaurus elliotorum, in hopes of further understanding the rise and fall of these outsized dinosaurs.
[Featured Image by Travis Tischler / © Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History]