In 2015, while digging at the Cretaceous-aged fossil site known as Eric the Red West, near Cape Otway in Victoria, Dinosaur Dreaming volunteer Jessica Parker found a strange and delicate bone. The bone was about five centimeters long.
Early identification at the Melbourne Museum suggests that it must be a fossil of a flying reptile called a pterosaur.
Later, Swinburne paleontologists Dr. Stephen Poropat and Ph.D. candidate Adele Pentland conducted a study on it. Their ail was to determine what type of pterosaur it was. And here they came up with a surprise.
They found that the new Victorian fossil is of an elaphrosaur.
Elaphrosaurinae is an enigmatic clade of gracile ceratosaurian theropod dinosaurs known from the Late Jurassic of Africa and Asia and the early Late Cretaceous of Argentina.
The elaphrosaur, whose name means “light-footed lizard,” was related to the Tyrannosaurus Rex and Velociraptor.
Ms. Pentland said, “Pterosaur neck vertebrae are very distinctive. In all known pterosaurs, the body of the vertebra has a socket at the head end and a ball or condyle at the body end. This vertebra had sockets at both ends, so it could not have been from a pterosaur.”
“After extensive research, we soon realized that the neck bone we were studying was from a theropod: a meat-eating dinosaur, related to Tyrannosaurus rex, Velociraptor, and modern birds. The only catch – this ‘meat-eating dinosaur’ probably didn’t eat meat!”
Dr. Poropat said, “Elaphrosaurs had long necks, stumpy arms with small hands, and relatively lightly built bodies. As dinosaurs go, they were rather bizarre. The few known skulls of elaphrosaurs show that the youngsters had teeth, but that the adults lost their teeth and replaced them with a horny beak. We don’t know if this is true for the Victorian elaphrosaur yet — but we might find out if we ever discover a skull.”
- Stephen F.Poropat, First elaphrosaurine theropod dinosaur (Ceratosauria: Noasauridae) from Australia — A cervical vertebra from the Early Cretaceous of Victoria. DOI: 10.1016/j.gr.2020.03.009