Australian Fauna

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The History of Australia's Reptiles

Frilled Dragon

Frilled Dragon (Chlamydosaurus Kingii)

25 000+ YEARS AGO

Reptiles at Riversleigh, in western Queensland, included giant crocodiles, giant turtles, monitor lizards and pythons.
100 000+ YEARS AGO

The Wellington Caves area of New South Wales was home to a flesh-eating goanna called Megalania. It grew to about 6 metres in length, was a ferocious predator and may have existed as recently as 30,000 years ago.

The Riversleigh reptiles included a large horned turtle with a clubbed tail, giant pythons, crocodiles and a water dragon lizard.

Crocodilians lived at Lightning Ridge, New South Wales.

Muttaburrasaurus, a plant-eating dinosaur about 7m in length, lived in Queensland.

An inland sea covered central Australia. In it swam ichthyosaurs and the 15m-long pilosaur Kronosaurus. Dinosaur Cove, Victoria, was home to the huge flesh-eater, Allosaurus.

A plant-eating dinosaur, Rhoetosaurus, more than 15m long and weighing 20 tonnes, lived at Taloona Station, near Roma, Queensland.

The early reptile Tasmaniosaurus hunted amphibians near Old Beach, Tasmania.

How Can You Tell What an Animal Looked Like from Only One Tooth?

In the past couple of hundred years scientists have studied scientifically how animals and plants live and survive. We now know that animals are shaped the way they are by their lives and their environment. We are what we eat in so many ways.

For instance, species of animal today may only be seen to be different from each other by minor differences in tooth or foot shape. From tooth shape and position in the jaw we can tell what an animal eats. Canine teeth tell us that an animal eats meat. Lack of canines but a presence of shearing or grinding teeth can tell us it was a plant eater, but also if it ate bark, leaves or grass. Just what did he eat?

Large eye sockets in its skull would tell us it had large eyes, and we know from examining today's animals with large eyes that these animals usually come out at night. You need larger eyes to capture more light from dim conditions. Nocturnal because it's easier to hide from predators in the night. Or if you're a night hunting predator, to stay hidden from your prey.

By comparing teeth, feet and other characteristics of today’s animals with the fossils, we can learn a lot about ancient animals.

Modern Technology Helps Us to Find the Answers

Today, many more technological tools are available to assist the palaeontologists in their research. For instance, a CAT scan was used in Adelaide to examine an Ichthyosaur skull.

The Fossil Hunters of the Victorian Coastline

Where Do the Fossils Lie Buried?

The coast of Victoria today is a dramatic landscape of cliffs and surging waves. In certain places along this coast, 100 million year old rocks that in most of Australia are buried deep underground have been exposed by the continual breaking of surf on the shore.

Paleontologists have spent years searching for fossils in these rocks. They’ve had to use jackhammers and even explosives to shift them and then spent many months carefully grinding away the brick-hard rock to reveal the few bones left after all that time.

What they have managed to find are the fragmentary remains of an incredible range of creatures from tiny mammals to carnivorous dinosaurs that lived in a strange polar environment.

Who found the Polar Dinosaur Fossils?

In 1903 William Ferguson found the first evidence of dinosaurs in Australia on the Victorian coast near Inverloch. It was just a single claw, later identified as belonging to a big carnivorous dinosaur called Megalosaurus. Back then people believed dinosaurs were big cold-blooded lizards and only lived in tropical climates. Somehow the claw must have been moved by something for it to be found so far south. And so no thorough search was made for more dinosaur remains until the late seventies, when the site was finally revisited and fragments of other dinosaurs discovered.

Did Scientists Find More?

Later, more pieces of bone turned up at other sites along the coast and serious digging began in the 1980s. The years of digging have revealed several types of dinosaurs, along with turtles, strange crocodile-like creatures related to frogs and a small mammal that could change the way scientists think about our origins.

How Old Were the Fossils?

The age of these fossilised remains is worked out by dating the rocks in which they are found. They are 105 to 115 million years old, a time in the very distant past called the Early Cretaceous.

Huge Dinosaur Find in Queensland

Palaeontologists recently announced the partial discovery of the largest dinosaur ever found in Australia—a 20 metre long beast. Dubbed 'Elliott', the sauropod dinosaur was found near Winton in western Queensland. Dr Steve Salisbury, an honorary fellow at the Queensland Museum, said the dig went better than he could ever have hoped. "Until now, the majority of dinosaur finds in Australia have been one-offs or isolated elements," he explained. "This one is different because it is a single animal that is preserved in situ in a type of rock that allows us to spend three weeks removing large bones."


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