Dinosaurs & Reptiles

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The World of Australian Dinosaurs

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dinosaur   dinosaur   dinosaur

Why Are Australian Dinosaurs Unique?

Because of the remoteness. Long before the first reptiles, Australia was connected to a giant southern landmass called Gondwana. Two hundred million years ago, about the time dinosaurs came to power, this supercontinent began to break apart, creating new marine barriers between Australia and its neighbouring lands. Although a few links with Gondwana remained, most Australian dinosaurs developed in isolation. You would not see Stegosaurus, Brontosaurus or Tyrannosaurus roaming our ancient landscape. Instead you would find our own unique breeds of Australian dinosaurs, similar—but not identical—to the well known varieties of the northern hemisphere (Allosaurus is an exception to this rule).

Most Australian dinosaurs are classified with the Ornithischians, a varied group of plant eaters (armoured dinosaurs are ornithischians). Fewer in number but greater in size are the gigantic Sauropods or Brontosaurs. Australia had its share of predators as well; these extinct killers are scientifically known as carnosaurs. All three groups of dinosaurs ruled the land for over 130 million years, ranking them among the most successful vertebrates in Earth's history.

What Was Australia Like During the Dinosaur Era?

At first, Australia was like most world climates 200 million years ago—warm and tropical, with low relief and vast swamps. Then continental drift began to carry our land off in a cooler southerly direction. Volcanic eruptions and rift valleys changed the shape of the landscape. By the peak of dinosaur development 100 million years ago, Australia was drifting into the south polar region. We know from the remains of pines, ginkgoes, tree ferns and early flowering plants that this ancient polar climate was not as harsh as modern Antarctica. Even so, any Australian dinosaurs were exposed to seasonal snow and ice. Australia was much colder than it is today and that there were long periods of darkness each year.

Dinosaurs such as Leaellynasaura are small with large eyes. It is unlikely that they could have migrated in and out of what is now southern Victoria, so they must have been able to see in low light conditions and keep warm in the long, cold winters. Australia was also connected to Antarctica and South America during the time of the dinosaurs. This allowed some movement of dinosaurs and other animals across continents that are now separated by vast oceans. Similarities between some Australian dinosaurs to others found on the other southern continents indicate a long history of movements back and forth between Australia and neighbouring continents.

What Else Lived with the Dinosaurs in Australia?

Australia has a very good record of the animals that lived in the seas while dinosaurs roamed the land. Long-necked plesiosaurs such as Woolungasaurus were preyed upon by their short necked relatives Kronosaurus. Ichthyosaurs torpedoed through the water like modern dolphins. Ammonites and huge platey relatives of oysters filled the waters and covered the sea floor. On the land there was a range of turtles, crocodiles and other smaller reptiles as well as a few mammals related to modern platypus and echidna. The air was home to several types of flying reptiles but their fragile bones were rarely fossilised. Toward the end of the age of dinosaurs birds made their first appearance in Australia, poised to take over from the dinosaurs after the great Cretaceous Extinction.


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