CANBERRA, Australia – It was a 1,100 pound meat-eating predator with three slashing claws on each of its powerful forelimbs that stalked the Outback 98 million years ago.
Scientists have now confirmed for the first time that the big, fast dinosaur lived in Australia - and they've named it like something from an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. Meet the Australovenator.
The beast was a 1,100 pound meat-eating predator with three slashing claws on each of its powerful forelimbs that stalked the Outback 98 million years ago, researchers said in a report published Friday.
Fossilized remnants of its limb bones, ribs, jaw and fangs were found — along with bones of two other new species of gigantic, long-necked herbivores weighing up to 22 tons — in Queensland state over the past three years.
The discovery, analyzed in a 51-page report published in the peer-reviewed online science journal PLoS ONE, was the first substantial find of large dinosaurs in Australia to be revealed in 28 years.
Paleontologists have described Australia as new frontier in vertebrate paleontology and an untapped resource in the world's understanding of the dinosaur age because so few fossils have been found there. This is largely because the relatively flat continent has long been geologically stable. The movement of tectonic plates in other continents has forced layers of rock bearing fossils tens of millions of years old to the surface making them easier to find.
In the latest Queensland find, paleontologists bulldozed top soil more than three feet (a meter) deep to expose the sandy clay that held the fossils.
The finders nicknamed the 16-foot long carnivore, Australovenator wintonensis, "Banjo," after the poet A.B. "Banjo" Paterson who in 1885 penned Australia's unofficial anthem "Waltzing Matilda" on a sheep ranch near Winton — a cattle town that lies closest to where the dinosaur bones were found. Banjo's Latin name means "Winton's Southern Hunter."
"The cheetah of his time, Banjo was light and agile," the report's lead author, Scott Hocknull, a Queensland Museum paleontologist, said in a statement.
"He's Australia's answer to Velociraptor, but many times bigger and more terrifying," Hocknull added, referring to the turkey-sized prehistoric predators recreated with artistic license in the "Jurassic Park" movies.
The other two finds — 52-foot- long herbivores — were previously unknown types of titanosaur, the largest dinosaurs that ever lived. The giraffe-like Wintonotitan wattsi and nicknamed Clancy translates from Latin as "Watts' Winton Giant." The Diamantinasaurus matildae resembled a hippopotamus and has been nicknamed Matilda; the Latin name translates as "Matilda's Diamantina River Lizard."
All three lived in the mid-Cretaceous period which extended from 145 million years to 65 million years ago.
Matilda's and Banjo's bones were mingled; Hocknull suspects Matilda became stuck in river mud and that Banjo fell into the same fatal trap while moving in for the kill.
"The jewel in the crown for us is Banjo because it's the most complete meat-eating dinosaur ever found in Australia," Hocknull said.
"All of the carnivorous dinosaurs that we've had in the past were only known from a single bone or tooth," he added.
John Long, a Museum Victoria paleontologist who was not connected with the find, said it was "very exciting stuff."
Long said the last "truly big" dinosaur found in Australia was the partial skeleton of a 30-foot- (9-meter-) long herbivore named Muttaburrasaurus which was found near the Queensland town of Muttaburra in 1981.
Long said only single large dinosaur bones had been found since then.
"This is the first time we've got partially articulated skeletons," Long said. "There is enough of the bones to reconstruct them quite confidently."
"We know so little about the Australian dinosaur fauna that any major paper like this is a massive advance on our previous knowledge," he said.
Hocknull said his team would continue unearthing more bones of the three dinosaurs as well as other sites in the Winton area, where fossil bones have been found scattered on the surface since the 1930s.