Rare fossil of dinosaur related to the T. rex that researchers believe roamed the Antarctic Circle 110 million years ago is discovered in Australia

  • Researchers in Australia discovered a rare fossil of a T. rex relative
  • The new species was believed to have roamed Antarctica 110 million years ago
  •  The fossil is the first of its kind found in Australia, though similar species have been found as far away as Argentina, China and Tanzania

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.

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Researchers in Australia discovered a vertebrae fossil of a dinosaur they believe to be an elaphrosaur, a relative of the T. rex and velociraptor believed to have roamed the Antarctic 110 million years ago, when it was still a lush jungle supercontinent

Only three other related species have been identified in the fossil record so far, in Tanzania, China and Argentina.

‘These are some of the most puzzling theropod dinosaurs, as they are known from such few fossils,’ University of Edinburgh paleontologist Steve Brusatte told The Guardian.

‘They seem to have been lightly built, fast-running, long-necked theropods which traded the carnivorous diet of their ancestors and become omnivores.’

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.

Other elaphrosaur species have been identified in the fossil record in Tanzania, Argentina and China, but this marks the first discovery in Australia, suggesting the animals had a much wider habitable range than previously thought

Initially the team suspected the fossil came from a flying dinosaur like the pterosaur, but further analysis revealed dissimilarities that led them to conclude it was from an elaphrosaur

The fossil was initially discovered in 2015 by a volunteer, Jessica Parker, as part of a larger program to enlist civilian helpers to assist paleontologists in combing over dig sites called Dinosaur Dreaming Project

‘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.

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