Australoton was a giant leaf-eating dinosaur, the largest down yet found.
About 92 million years ago, “Cooper” was trapped in the mud. The slope sealed the fate of the giant, long-necked leaf-eating dinosaur, hiding its bones until 2007, when parts of the animal were unearthed, dug from beneath a cattle and sheep station near the small Australian town of Eromanga , population 119, in South West Queensland.
After 14 years of painstaking research and analysis, the giant sauropod specimen known from leg and hip bones is being described and officially named by its discoverers for the first time. The surname, Cooper, is out.
Folks, it’s time to meet Australotine Copreensis, a titanosaur that dominated the land during the Cretaceous period, about 92 million to 96 million years ago. The name australotitan means “southern titan,” and cooperensis represents the area where the fossil was discovered.
The holotype specimen – that is, the specimen used to describe this brand new species – is detailed in a paper published Monday in the journal PeerJ by researchers from the Queensland Museum and the Eromanga Natural History Museum in Australia.
“This new titanosaurian is Australia’s largest dinosaur represented by osteological remains,” said Robin Mackenzie, a paleontologist at the Eromanga Natural History Museum.
Over the years, the research team gradually excavated and analyzed the fragments of Cooper’s fossil, to gain a better understanding of the gargantuan creature. He uncovered a raft of various bones and bone fragments from Titan’s legs and hip.
With the help of 3D computer analysis, the team began to unravel Cooper’s story and make inferences about its size, length and mass.
“The 3D scans we made allowed me to carry about thousands of kilos of dinosaur bones in a 7kg laptop,” said Scott Hocknull, a paleontologist at the Queensland Museum who helped locate Cooper.
Titanic may be an understatement.
At nearly 100 feet long, Cooper is about the length of an Airbus A318 passenger plane and Out-Monsters is the tallest giraffe ever built, which, over the entire stretch, will reach Cooper’s hip. Imagine how much extra height Cooper gets from that neck! Based on other sauropod measurements, Cooper is likely to have weighed around 70 tons—about 10 times more than that of an African elephant. This places it in the top 5 heaviest sauropods ever discovered and in the top 15 for length.
The bones also suggested that after Cooper met his fate in the mud, other sauropods trampled his bones. A potentially grim ending.
To make sure they found an entirely new species, the team also compared the bones to previously described sauropods from the location, Vintonotan, Diamantinasaurus and Savannasaurus – which Hocknul and others discovered and published over the past decade is. The subtle differences in the bones of these creatures show how Australotitan differs from other titanosaurs.
The site of the discovery, near Eromanga, has become a hotspot for dinosaur discoveries in Australia. Back in 2004, Robin’s son Sandy found an unusual rock and threw it into the back of his ute. Eventually, his father took it to the museum for analysis, and it was confirmed as a dinosaur fossil. But that was just the beginning.
“The discovery of Australia’s largest dinosaur was completely unexpected and, as it turns out, was just the tip of the iceberg of many important dinosaur discoveries,” said Robin Mackenzie. Mackenzie and his family were able to establish the Eromanga Natural History Museum, which now proudly displays the Cooper behind the discovery.
The team has unearthed several other titanosaur specimens, but it is not yet known whether these are other Australians or other species. But the excavations in the Land of the Giants will continue.