By Kirra Grimes
FOSSIL hunters at Inverloch have found evidence of a previously unidentified species of dinosaur, in one of the most significant scientific discoveries in the region in the last 20 years.
Members of Inverloch’s ‘Dinosaur Dreaming’ volunteer dig team made the discovery at The Caves beach recently, digging up five fossilised upper jaw bones among the 125-million-year-old rocks.
University of New England (NSW) palaeontologist Dr Matthew Herne has since found that these bones belonged to a wallaby-sized herbivorous (plant-eating) dinosaur named Galleonosaurus dorisae, which would have lived during the Early Cretaceous period.
As reported by Dr Herne in the Journal of Paleontology, the Galleonosaurus species was part of a large family of dinosaurs called ‘ornithopods’.
The name Galleonosaurus dorisae refers to the shape of the animal’s upper jaw, which is said to resemble the upturned hull of a sailing ship called a galleon.
The name also honours the work of Dr Doris Seegets-Villiers, who produced her PhD thesis on the palaeontology of the locality where the fossils were discovered.
The Galleonosaurus is the second species of dinosaur to have been discovered at Inverloch, and according to Dr Herne, they would have been agile runners with powerful hind legs.
The shape of the newly-named dinosaur’s snout suggests they would have fed on different plant types to the Qantassaurus, the first dinosaur species discovered at Inverloch, by husband and wife team Patricia Vickers-Rich and Tom Rich in 1999.
The difference in diet would have allowed these two, similarly-sized dinosaurs to coexist, said Dr Herne.
Long-time member of the Dinosaur Dreaming dig team, palaeontologist and education officer at Inverloch’s Bunurong Environment Centre Mike Cleeland said the latest discovery was hugely exciting, adding to the knowledge of the variety of dinosaurs that once roamed the Bass Coast region.
“What it tells us is that Australia once had dinosaurs that were similar to the marsupials of today,” Mike said.
“They were similar in body size and they occupied a similar place in the environment.”
Mike said the latest find had created a buzz amongst the local fossil hunting community, and the sense that “there’s always more still to be found”.
“The Caves is an active research site and it’s likely more discoveries will be made,” he said, urging the public to get involved through interactive Bunurong Coast Education sessions running at The Caves throughout the Easter school holidays.
Dr Herne’s recently published study on the Galleonosaurus, the fifth small ornithopod genus named from Victoria, confirms the global significance of the discovery.
Dr Herne reported that the “unusually high” level of diversity of small ornithopods discovered in the region showed that compared to other areas around the world, these dinosaurs thrived on the vast forested floodplain within the ancient rift valley that once extended between the spreading continents of Australia and Antarctica.
Dr Herne’s study also reveals that ornithopods from Victoria are closely related to those from Patagonia in Argentina.