Researchers in Australia discovered the fossil of a rare and still mysterious dinosaur they believe roamed Antarctica 110 million years ago.
The fossil is a single vertebrae from the elaphrosaurs genus, part of the theropod family and a relative of the Tyrannosaurus rex and Velociraptor.
According to a team of researchers from Swinburne University, the new species of elaphrosaurs had a long and thin torso – around four times as long as it was tall – and lived on a diet of mainly plants.
The fossil was originally discovered in 2015 at a popular site on Cape Otway a few hours outside Melbourne, nicknamed Dinosaur Cove.
The site is part of a volunteer-led initiative to help paleontologists search for new fossils, called the Dinosaur Dreaming Project.
The elaphrosaur vertebrae was originally found by volunteer Jessica Parker, and sent to Melbourne Museum for study.
Researchers initially thought it might have come from a flying dinosaur like a pterosaur because of its smaller size, but subsequent examination found significant differences that led the team to consider alternative species.
The fossil dates back an estimated 110 million years, when Australia was part of a supercontinent with what is presently Antarctica.
At that time, Antarctica wasn’t a frozen expanse but a lush jungle with a wide range of plant and animal life that could have supported the primarily plant-based diet of the elaphrosaurs.
‘This discovery greatly expands the range of these animals,’ Brusatte said.
‘They were probably a widespread, and perhaps even global, group of dinosaurs, which we haven’t yet appreciated because of the scanty clues they left behind.’
Given the number of fossils that have been found over the years around Dinosaur Cove, the team is hopeful they’ll find more evidence of elaphrosaurs in the future and hopefully learn about differences and similarities with their kin in China, Tanzania and Argentina.