A new wallaby-sized dinosaur found in Australia

The first dinosaur named from the Gippsland region of Australia in 16 years.

Artist's impression of a Galleonosaurus dorisae herd on a riverbank in the Australian-Antarctic rift valley during the Early Cretaceous, 125 million years ago. The newly-named, dinosaur wallaby-sized herbivorous dinosaur, was identified from five fossilized upper jaws in 125-million-year-old rocks from the Cretaceous period of Victoria, southeastern Australia. Credit: Image copyright James Kuether
Artist's impression of a Galleonosaurus dorisae herd on a riverbank in the Australian-Antarctic rift valley during the Early Cretaceous, 125 million years ago. The newly-named, dinosaur wallaby-sized herbivorous dinosaur, was identified from five fossilized upper jaws in 125-million-year-old rocks from the Cretaceous period of Victoria, southeastern Australia. Credit: Image copyright James Kuether

Scientists have recently found a new wallaby-sized herbivorous dinosaur named “Galleonosaurus dorisae”, from five fossilized upper jaws in 125 million-year-old rocks from the Cretaceous period of Victoria, southeastern Australia.

This is the first of its kind of dinosaur who got named from the Gippsland region of Australia in 16 years. What’s more, scientists even noted that this is for the first time an age range has been identified from the jaws of an Australian dinosaur.

Dr. Matthew Herne, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of New England, NSW, and lead author of the new study said, “Galleonosaurus was a small-bodied herbivorous dinosaur within the large family called ornithopods. These small dinosaurs would have been agile runners on their powerful hind legs.”

Galleonosaurus is the fifth small ornithopod genus named from Victoria, which “confirms that on a global scale, the diversity of these small-bodied dinosaurs had been unusually high in the ancient rift valley that once extended between the spreading continents of Australia and Antarctica. Small ornithopods appear to have thrived on the vastly forested floodplain within the ancient rift valley.

Fossils and 3D CT model of the newly named dinosaur, Galleonosaurus dorisae. The wallaby-sized herbivorous dinosaur has been identified from five fossilized upper jaws in 125-million-year-old rocks from the Cretaceous period of Victoria, southeastern Australia. Credit: Matthew Herne
Fossils and 3D CT model of the newly named dinosaur, Galleonosaurus dorisae. The wallaby-sized herbivorous dinosaur has been identified from five fossilized upper jaws in 125-million-year-old rocks from the Cretaceous period of Victoria, southeastern Australia. Credit: Matthew Herne

The name Galleonosaurus dorisae refers to the shape of the upper jaw, resembling the upturned hull of a sailing ship called a galleon, and also honors the work of Dr. Doris Seegets-Villiers, who produced her Ph.D. thesis on the paleontology of the locality where the fossils were discovered.

At the season of Galleonosaurus, the residue was shed from a four thousand km long massif of large, effectively ejecting volcanoes that once existed along the eastern edge of the Australian continent. A portion of these sediments was conveyed westbound by expansive waterways into the Australian-Antarctic break valley where they shaped profound sedimentary basins.

Nonetheless, as these silt washed down the waterways of the crack valley the bones of dinosaurs, for example, Galleonosaurus and different vertebrates, alongside the logs of fallen trees, wound up mixed in.

According to Dr. Herne, “this land has now vanished, but as ‘time-travelers’ we get snapshots of this remarkable world via the rocks and fossils exposed along the coast of Victoria.”

In a new study, scientists have shown that Galleonosaurus dorisae is a close relative of Diluvicursor pickeringi; another small ornithopod named by Dr. Herne and his team in 2018, from excavations along the Otway coast to the west of the Gippsland region.

He said, “the jaws of Galleonosaurus and the partial skeleton of Diluvicursor were similarly buried in volcanic sediments on the floor of deep powerful rivers. However, Galleonosaurus is about 12 million years older than Diluvicursor, showing that the evolutionary history of dinosaurs in the Australian-Antarctic rift had been lengthy.”

The jaws of Galleonosaurus were discovered by volunteers of the Dinosaur Dreaming project during excavations near the town of Inverloch. The most complete jaw and the key specimen carrying the name Galleonosaurus dorisae was discovered in 2008 by the seasoned fossil hunter Gerrit (‘Gerry’) Kool, from the nearby town of Wonthaggi. Gerry and his wife Lesley have been instrumental in organizing the Dinosaur Dreaming excavations along the Victorian coast for 25 years.

Prior to the discovery of Galleonosaurus dorisae, the only other ornithopod known from the Gippsland region was Qantassaurus intrepidus, named in 1999. However, Qantassaurus had a shorter more robust snout than that of Galleonosaurus, explained Dr. Herne, who added, “we consider that these two, similarly-sized dinosaurs fed on different plant types, which would have allowed them to coexist.”

The new study reveals that the ornithopods from Victoria are closely related to those from Patagonia in Argentina. “We are steadily building a picture of terrestrial dinosaur interchange between the shifting Gondwanan continents of Australia, South America, and Antarctica during the Cretaceous period,” added Dr. Herne

These are exciting times for dinosaur research, explained Dr. Herne: “Using advanced techniques, such as 3-D micro-CT scanning and printing, new anatomical information is being revealed on dinosaurs such as Galleonosaurus dorisae. These techniques are helping us to delve deeper into the mysterious world of dinosaur ecology—what they ate, how they moved and how they coexisted—and their evolutionary relationships with dinosaurs from other continents.”

The study is published in the Journal of Paleontology.