SYDNEY (Reuters) – Scientists have confirmed the discovery of a new dinosaur species in Australia, one of the largest in the world, more than a decade after cattle ranchers first discovered the bones of the animal.
The herbivorous sauropod lived in the Cretaceous period between 92 and 96 million years ago, when Australia was attached to Antarctica, according to a research paper released on Monday.
Paleontologists estimated the dinosaur to reach a height of 16.4 to 21.32 feet at the hip and 82 to 98.4 feet long, making it as long as a basketball court and as tall as a two-story building.
This makes the new species the largest dinosaur ever found in Australia and places it among the top five in the world, joining an elite group of titanosaurs that had only been discovered in South America.
“Finds like this are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Scott Hocknull, curator and paleontologist at the Queensland Museum.
Paleontologists named the sauropod ‘Australotitan cooperensis’, combining ‘southern titan’ with the name of a stream near where the creature’s first bones were found in 2006 on a cattle ranching property in Eromanga, in the state of Queensland.
Confirmation of the new species marks a long seventeen-year journey to unearth and then compare the bones of “Cooper”, as the dinosaur is more informally known, to other finds.
Dinosaur bones are huge, heavy and fragile and are kept in museums around the world, making scientific studies difficult.
The team at the Eromanga Natural History Museum and the Queensland Museum for the first time used new digital technology to 3D scan each bone for comparison.
“To make sure Australotitan was a different species, we had to compare its bones to those of other species in Queensland and the world,” Hocknull said. “It was a very long and laborious task. “
Robyn Mackenzie, who was herding cattle with her husband Stuart on their property when they discovered the bones, founded the Eromanga Natural History Museum to house the find.
A slew of new dinosaur skeleton finds in the area, along with a rock shelf believed to have been a passageway for sauropods, are still awaiting full scientific study.
“Paleo tourism has been huge globally, so we expect a lot of international interest when our borders reopen,” said Mackenzie, now a field paleontologist.
Hocknull said even larger dinosaur specimens are waiting to be discovered, given that herbivorous sauropods were typically preyed upon by huge theropods.
“We found a few small theropod dinosaurs in Australia… but that wouldn’t have bothered Australotitan, which suggests there is a very large predatory dinosaur somewhere. We just haven’t found it yet.
Reporting by Paulina Duran in Sydney; Editing by Jane Wardell