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Turkey-Sized Dinosaur Found in Ancient Log-Jam

A dinosaur species discovered a decade ago in south-eastern Australia is giving fresh insights into the diversity of dinosaurs that inhabited the Australian–Antarctic rift valley.

The species, described in Peer J, was identified from fossilised tail and foot bones found in 113-million-year-old rocks that form a sea platform near Cape Otway in Victoria. The dinosaur has been named Diluvicursor pickeringi, meaning “Pickering’s flood-running dinosaur”. The species name honours the late David Pickering of Museums Victoria.

“Diluvicursor shows for the first time that there were at least two distinct body-types among closely related ornithopods – small, two-legged grazing dinosaurs – in this part of Australia,” said Dr Matt Herne of the University of Queensland. “One called Leaellynasaura was lightly built with an extraordinarily long tail, while the other – Diluvicursor – was more solidly built with a far shorter tail. “Our preliminary reconstruction of Diluvicursor’s tail muscles suggests this dinosaur had powerful leg-retracting muscles and was most likely a good runner.”

Herne said the discovery highlighted the extraordinary diversity of dinosaur species in the ancient rift valley that existed between Australia and Antarctica. Sea erosion over the course of millennia has exposed fossils in wave-cut rock platforms around the Otway coast. The fossil was buried along with flood-transported tree stumps, logs and branches in deep scours at the base of what was once a powerful river. “The Diluvicursor pickeringi carcass appears to have become entangled in a log-jam at the bottom of this river,” Herne said.

“The Diluvicursor skeleton was discovered in 2005, but it’s taken this long to fully understand the geology of the area where it was found, and also Diluvicursor’s relationships. Much of the fossil vertebrate material from this site has yet to be described, so we hope to discover further dinosaur species, specimens and other exciting animals there,” Herne said.

“Understanding the ecology of these dinosaurs – what they ate, how they moved, where they roamed – based on the interplay between anatomy and the environment presents exciting challenges for future research.”

The Melbourne Museum plans to put the Diluvicursor specimen on public display.