A PREHISTORIC monster amphibian that looked like a crocodile and was the size of a car has joined the likes of the Leadbeater’s possum, the helmeted honeyeater and gold as an official emblem of Victoria.
The four-metre Koolasuchus cleelandi had dozens of ridged fangs for piercing prey and two-inch tusks growing from the roof of its mouth – and following a public vote the predator is now Victoria’s State Fossil Emblem.
Minister for Creative Industries Danny Pearson said 11,500 Victorians voted in Museums Victoria’s poll to select the fossil emblem with Koolasuchus cleelandi beating other fossils unique to the state, including a 25-million-year-old whale and one of the first plants to live outside water that dates back 400 million years.
Koolasuchus cleelandi, first discovered in 1978 near San Remo on Bunurong Country, is on permanent display at Melbourne Museum.
Fossils of Koolasuchus have only been found at beaches and coves in the Bass Coast-South Gippsland region. Resembling something between a huge salamander and a crocodile, Koolasuchus cleelandi lived in the rushing rivers that separated Australia and Antarctica during the Cretaceous period.
Sharing the land with dinosaurs including the armoured ankylosaurus, the giant amphibian ate small dinosaurs, turtles and fish. Due to Victoria’s climate, the Koolasuchus was able to survive here for about 50 million years after all its relatives had died off, before eventually succumbing to extinction 125 million years ago.
The species was named after fossil collector and educator Mike Cleeland, of Phillip Island, who in 1990 found the jaw that became the holotype of the species, and Melbourne Museum research associate Lesley Kool, who spent months preparing the specimens.
Koolasuchus is also something of a play on words as the species lived in a cool environment when Victoria was deep in the southern polar circle.
“While it might not be a creature you’d want to come across in the wild, the Koolasuchus cleelandi tells a fascinating story about Victoria’s history – and we welcome it as our official fossil emblem,” Minister for Creative Industries Danny Pearson said.
“It’s another reason why Melbourne Museum is such treasure and a great day out this summer.”
Mike said the emblem announcement would be a significant boost to the Bass Coast Dinosaur Trail, which will include a representation of Koolasuchus at San Remo.
Museums Victoria chief executive Lynley Crosswell said Koolasuchus cleelandi was of global significance, providing provides clues to the evolution of life on Earth and the past environments of Victoria.
“Museums Victoria is renowned for our paleontology collection with exceptional fossils from sites across Victoria. We display these fossils, research them and keep them safe for future generations to learn from,” Ms Crosswell said.
The Koolasuchus cleelandi is part of Melbourne Museum’s 600 Million Years exhibition that showcases the origin of life in Victoria through fossils, models, animatronics and animations. Entry to Melbourne Museum is free for children.
Victoria’s other state emblems are the Leadbeater’s Possum (animal), the Helmeted Honeyeater (bird), the Weedy Seadragon (marine animal), the Common Heath (flora), and gold (mineral).