2016 is turning out to be a good year so far as the study of dinosaurs goes, especially in South America. A new lineage was discovered in Argentina in July, another small pterosaur was found there in late August and earlier in October, Brazilian paleontologists announced that a fossil lying in a cupboard in a museum in Rio de Janeiro belonged to the largest dinosaur ever found in the country.
And on Thursday, in a somewhat related development, the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum (AADM) announced the formal name for a titanosaur whose ancestors traveled to Australia from South America about 105 million years ago.
Savannasaurus elliottorum was a mid-sized titanosaur, and given the general size of that family of dinosaurs, it means the animal was about 45-50 feet in length, which is roughly half the length of a basketball court. It was so named because its fossils were found in 2005 in the Australian savannah by David Elliott, who also co-founded AADM, according to the official announcement.
A paper naming the dinosaur, as well as announcing the finding of another dinosaur skull, was published in the journal Scientific Reports on Thursday.
S. elliottorum and the other dinosaur, named Diamantinasaurus matildae, were both sauropods, part of the titanosaur family, which comprised the largest land-living animals ever. The discoveries are significant because they give paleontologists a clearer picture of the distribution of these gigantic animals.
Dr. Philip Mannion, a sauropod expert from Imperial College, London, who collaborated on the research to establish the place of the two dinosaurs on the sauropod family tree, said: ““Savannasaurus and the new Diamantinasaurus specimen have helped us to demonstrate that titanosaurs were living worldwide by 100 million years ago.”
According to AADM’s Dr. Stephen Poropat and his colleagues, the Savannasaurus came to Australia from South America over Antarctica at a time when the three land masses were connected and the temperatures were warm enough for the giant herbivores to make the journey across the polar latitudes.
Savannasaurus also stood out from others of its kind for its unusual body shape.
“With hips at least one meter wide and a huge barrel-like ribcage, Savannasaurus is the most rotund sauropod we have found so far—even more so than the somewhat hippopotamus-like Diamantinasaurus,” Dr. Poropat said.