The first Australian spinosaur

A neck vertebrae found in Victoria has shed new light on the spinosaurs’ evolutionary history. Image: Jon Augier, Museum Victoria.

Palaeontologists have found evidence of spinosaur dinosaurs in Australia.

Spinosaurs were known to have roamed throughout Europe, Africa and South America. But this discovery, published in Biology Letters, suggests that they were not restricted to a particular region as previously believed.

Dr Thomas Rich, Museum Victoria, says that the discovery of these dinosaurs in Australia will change our understanding of their evolution. He said in the press release “The existence of this neck vertebra adds to the view that in the Early Cretaceous period, the dinosaur faunas found in many other parts of the world were also found in Australia.”

The neck vertebrae measures about four centimetres in length and is believed to have belonged to a spinosaur living 150 million years ago during the Early Cretaceous Period. The spinosaur itself would have been around two metres in length.

The fossil was discovered in 2005 by Michael Cleeland and George Caspar, near the Cape Otway Lighthouse, Victoria. The paper’s lead author, Dr Paul Barrett from the Natural History Museum, London, later identified the vertebrae as belonging to a spinosaur.

A number of dinosaur species were believed to be restricted to the Northern Hemisphere. But the recent discoveries of some of these species on the Australian continent have suggested that they were more widely distributed than we believed.

“The same groups of dinosaurs were widespread when the Earth was once a supercontinent,” Dr Rich said. “When the Earth evolved into separate continents, the various families of dinosaurs had already reached those landmasses, which explains why the same ones have been found in places now far apart from one another.”

And Australia was not isolated entirely from the rest of the world while the spinosaurs lived, co-author Professor Patricia Vickers-Rich, Monash University, notes on the paper. “This challenges ideas that an endemic terrestrial fauna was present in Australia some 110-120 million years ago.”

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