This Weird Australian Dinosaur Didn't Just Survive in Polar Temperatures and Virtual Darkness—It Thrived

Wednesday, 24 January 2018 - 11:27AM
Wednesday, 24 January 2018 - 11:27AM
This Weird Australian Dinosaur Didn't Just Survive in Polar Temperatures and Virtual Darkness—It Thrived
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The Australian ornithopod dinosaur known as the "hypsilophodontid" must have had it rough. When it lived during the Mesozoic era 120 million years ago, Victoria, Australia was part of the Antarctic Circle, prone to months of twilight and below freezing temperatures. Nonetheless, these dinosaurs not only lived—they thrived.

A new study of 17 individual hypsilophodontid fossils focused on the microstructure of the dinosaur's bones to learn more about how it managed to grow in such conditions. The samples were recovered from two locations-along the south Victorian coast stretching from west of Cape Otway to Inverloch- which are geologically separated by about 12 million years.

Visible rings in the bones, similar to the rings in trees, helped determine the age of the samples. Scientists learned that the dinosaurs grew the most during the first three years of life, and reached their full size in five to seven years. Even at their full size, the hypsilophondontid only ever grew to about the size of a turkey.

"Our life history assessment demonstrates to us that this generalised growth trajectory was a successful lifestyle for surviving in a region experiencing unique conditions," said lead author Holly Woodward.

This study is especially significant, as it's the first reconstruction of the dinosaur's complete life trajectory. "Further investigations of this unique sample will continue to shed light on how these little dinosaurs thrived in high latitudes and under the most stressful of environments during a time when dinosaurs flourished on planet Earth," said study co-author Dr. Patricia Vickers-Rich,a professor of paleobiology at Swinburne.

Recently, another type of ornithopod was discovered in the great rift valley that used to exist between Australia and Antarctica. Like the hypsilophodontid, Diluvicursor pickeringi was a three-toed herbivore that interacted with the environment similar to cattle or deer. Their horned beaks would dig up vegetation from the earth, which they would then chew with a mouth full of molar-like teeth.

Italian scientists also recently discovered a duck-like dinosaur so strange that they thought it was fake. Apart from its unusual appearance, the Halszkaraptor escuilliei seems particularly strange because its features suggest that it could both walk around on land and hunt in the ocean. 

And if that weren't strange enough, we still have no explanation for the dinosaur-like corpse found in India late last year, which appeared to still have flesh preserved on it. Scientists urge folks to not get too excited, though, as the likelihood of finding a specimen millions of years old in this condition is pretty much impossible.