The southern hunter
- Name: Australovenator
- Diet: Carnivore
- Weight: 1,8 tons
- Period: Cretaceous
- Found In: Australia
The Cretaceous period was a curious time. It is more than a hundred million years since the supercontinent Pangaea fragmented into Laurasia and Gondwana, and since then these two continents have continued to divide and fragment into smaller continents, and many regions are now nothing more than large islands surrounded by hundreds of kilometers of the ocean where their inhabitants have been isolated.
This isolation generally leads to the whimsical evolution according to different curious forms, by the effect of insularity. The appearance of large water barriers that impede the genetic flow between different animal populations encourages species to evolve in different directions, generating peculiar organisms.
One of them is found in Australia 98 million years ago. A recently discovered theropod dinosaur that despite its six meters long, its lightness was characteristic: it weighed no more than 600 kg. We’re talking about Australovenator wintonensis.
What the name Australovenator means
The meaning of the name Australovenator is’Australian hunter’. Its name comes from the Latin word venator which is understood as hunter and australo refer to Australia where its fossil remains were found.
History of the Australovenator discovery
In 1981 in Victoria, Australia, a fossil ankle bone was found from a mid-Cretaceous theropod that was suspiciously similar to the Allosaurus genus. The scientists thought that the fossil ankle, which was coded as NMVP 150070, might have belonged to an unknown’dwarf’ species or to an unknown juvenile Allosaurus australiana; in fact, it was given the generic name Allosaurus sp., pending possible future discoveries that would allow the identification of a new holotype.
Today everything points to the fact that this mysterious fossil actually belonged to our protagonist.
Since we only have one fossil, we have very little information about this inhabitant of Cretaceous Australia. Currently, research on the paleo-ecological and paleobiological aspects of Australovenator continues, as well as an intense search for new and more complete fossils that can expand and improve what we know about it.
Banjo is currently on display at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum in Winston, where he can be visited.
The publication of the first Australovenator, affectionately known as Banjo, was published in 2009 in the scientific journal Plos One, and two other dinosaurs were described alongside him: the titanosauromorph sauropods Wintonotitan and Diamantinasaurus, both of which are about 16 meters long. But his discovery also solved an ancient enigma that had been causing headaches for paleontologists for 28 years.
How and when did the Australovenator live?
It lived about 90 million years ago in the Upper Cretaceous, it is believed that its habitat was characterized by being composed of large arid plains and little vegetation. Some researchers point out that it is perfectly adapted to this climate and that it was not a problem for him. It should be clarified that all this is based on the comparison with other dinosaurs in that region since there is not enough fossil material to draw more definitive conclusions.
What did the Australovenator eat?
This dinosaur was carnivorous, believed to feed on other medium-sized dinosaurs such as diamantinasaurus; with the few fossil remains found it was easy to conclude that it was a fast and light dinosaur that no doubt helped it to catch its prey easily.
General characteristics of the Australovenator
As for its characteristic, we must start by saying that this dinosaur could reach a height of about 2 meters, taking its hips as a reference, could reach a length of about 6 meters and could weigh about 50 kilograms.
Its build was slim and perfectly adapted for high speeds. As for his mouth, it had a large number of sharp teeth and large sharp claws in his hands. It should be noted that he had large arms that allowed him to grasp his prey.
These three claws, unlike other theropods such as the Tyrannosaurus who used his hind legs to attack, the Australovenator used his front extremities for the attack. It is believed that he always sought to cause damage with his claws and then catch his prey with them.
Many scientists point out that this dinosaur was not capable of preying or grabbing its victims with its hands, but on the contrary, they used its enormous claws as hooks or hooks that they used to catch their prey, which in turn caused it great damage. This dinosaur is estimated not to have had a powerful bite so its claws played a key role in its survival.
How did the Australovenator behave?
This dinosaur was nicknamed the Cretaceous Cheetah. The Australovenator was originally part of the same group that gave rise to the allosaurids, this branch of the Neovenatoridae family was isolated on the oceanic continent from a very early age and evolved into what its discoverers called “the cheetah of its time”.
His mouth full of sharp teeth and a pair of long arms well armed with powerful claws, along with his light physiognomy and strong hind legs of firm musculature leave no doubt that we are facing a fierce predator who used the power and speed to attack prey that could be from the small ankylosaurid Minmi to much larger animals, such as the well-known iguantido Muttaburrasaurus, up to 9 meters long.
Some curiosities about the Australovenator
- The australovenator appeared in the fifth chapter of the BBC series “Walking among dinosaurs”, hunting a group of Muttaburrasaurus on the shore of a lake.
- This dinosaur is considered one of Australia’s largest predators. Considering that it was part of the group of megaraptors, which were the dominant predator group among carnivores in Australia during the Middle Cretaceous period.