December 08, 2015

Kunbarrasaurus Ieversi: Australia's Newest Dinosaur


Australia, say hello to your newest dinosaur.

Well, it's as new as anything that died out 65 million years ago can be.

Kunbarrasaurus ieversi, a bulky, armoured beast with similarities to the stegosaurs, bit the dust along with the rest of the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period.

The fossil with a parrot-like beak and an inner-ear like that of a turtle was dug up in central north Queensland in 1989 but only now classified as its own special form.

It remains one of the world's most complete examples of an ankylosaur, a vicious-looking genus with a bony skin shell (known as dermal armour) and lethal-looking tail club.

Despite their menacing exterior, the genus is entirely herbivorous.
Kunbarrasaurus was so well preserved, with bones still connected, scientists studying its skeleton could identify seeds and leaves from its last meal, more than 65 million years ago.

It had previously been classified as an example of another well-known Queensland dinosaur - minmi, which was found near Roma in 1964 and constructed from a much less complete fossil.

But after extensive study of the dinosaur's skull, a research team led by University of Queensland PhD student Lucy Leahey decided kunbarrasaurus was different enough for its own classification.

"The shape and the textures on the dermal armour is different, the hand from minmi is different to kunbarrasaurus and the vertebrae is different," she said.

"Most of the bits are different. There are a couple of things that are similar but the majority are different."

Ms Leahey said as a PhD student she felt lucky to be able to study the find, let alone having the rare achievement of naming a new form.

She said the newly categorised Cretaceous period creature appeared to be much less advanced than other ankylosaurs uncovered in the Northern Territory.

The northern Queensland find was smaller and less well-armoured, which Ms Leahey said was an advantage for scientists in some ways, because its armour had not fused to its skeleton, making it easier to study.

"Kunbarrasaurus represents a more primitive form of ankylosaur, so it's not as advanced as what you see in the popular literature from North America and Asia," she said.

"Those guys have the huge spikes and plates and big tail clubs.

"Kunbarrasaurus doesn't have that. It does have dermal armour but it's not as big or impressive as what you see overseas but that's really great because we can see a lot of the bones underneath."

UQ School of Biological Sciences senior lecturer Dr Steven Salisbury, Ms Leahey's research supervisor, said the newly named creature appeared to have come from about the time the ankylosaurs diverged from the other main lineage of armoured dinosaurs, the better-known stegosaurs.

By Jorge Branco

With many thanks to the Brisbane Times

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