Austrosaurus – Southern Dino of Ancient Australia

Austrosaurus – Southern Dino of Ancient Australia

Austrosaurus, whose name translates to “Southern Lizard,” offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of the Early Cretaceous Period. As we embark on this journey through time, we uncover the mysteries of a dinosaur that called the ancient landscapes of Australia its home, shedding light on its existence and the environment it thrived in.

The discovery of Austrosaurus is significant within the Australian continent. This sauropod, belonging to the cetiosaurid group, provides key insights into the evolutionary narrative of dinosaurs in the southern hemisphere. Through a careful examination of its physical characteristics, habitat, and the fossils unearthed, we gain a deeper understanding of its life and the era it dominated.

Austrosaurus Key Facts

Meaning of nameSouthern Lizard
Type SpeciesAustrosaurus mckillopi
When it Lived105.3 to 100.5 MYA
PeriodEarly Cretaceous
EpochLate/Upper Albian
Length66.0 feet
HeightApproximately 12.8 feet at hips
Weight16.0 tons
MobilityMoved on all four
First Discovery1932 by Mr. H.B. Wade
Described by1933 by Albert Heber Longman
HolotypeQM F2316
Location of first findQueensland, Australia

Austrosaurus Origins, Taxonomy and Timeline

The etymology of Austrosaurus, deriving from Latin “austro” for “south” and the Greek “saurus” meaning “lizard,” aptly names this dinosaur as a southern lizard, reflecting its discovery in the southern lands of Australia. This nomenclature not only highlights its geographical origins but also its belonging to the vast and varied group of sauropods, known for their massive size and long necks.

Pencil sketch of Austrosaurus, a sauropod dinosaur from the Early Cretaceous period. Austrosaurus was a quadrupedal herbivore known for its long neck and tail, which helped it reach high vegetation.

Belonging to the Cetiosaurid family, Austrosaurus mckillopi stands as the type species for its genus, with no subspecies identified to date. This classification places it within a group of early sauropods that roamed the Earth during the Early Cretaceous Period, specifically in the Late Albian.

The timeline of this dino spans from approximately 105.3 to 100.5 million years ago, a period characterized by significant geological and climatic changes that shaped the evolution of many dinosaur species. This era, part of the vast Cretaceous Period, witnessed the diversification of Sauropods and their adaptation to various environments.

Discovery & Fossil Evidence

The journey into the past that unveiled Austrosaurus began with a remarkable find in 1932. Mr. H.B. Wade, while at Clutha Station near Maxwelton in north Queensland, stumbled upon something extraordinary: three blocks of stone containing the ancient remains of what would soon be known as Austrosaurus. These weren’t just any fossils; they were primitive and badly weathered vertebrae and rib fragments, hinting at the existence of a colossal creature that once roamed the Earth. Recognizing the significance of his discovery, Wade promptly informed the station manager, H. Mackillop. The chain of discovery didn’t stop there; Mackillop shared this find with his brother, who understood the importance of these relics and sent them to the Queensland Museum for further examination.

The Fossil’s Journey

Upon their arrival at the museum, the fossils were assigned the holotype number QM F2361. But the story of Austrosaurus’s discovery didn’t end with those initial three blocks. Further investigation at the site led to the unearthing of five large blocks and at least ten smaller ones, all later assigned to the holotype as well. These additional pieces provided a broader glimpse into the anatomy of Austrosaurus, offering clues about its size, structure, and the life it led millions of years ago.

Albert Heber Longman, in 1933, took on the task of describing these fossils, officially recognizing Austrosaurus as a new species. This description was not just a formality; it was a monumental step in piecing together the cretaceous puzzle of Australia’s ancient fauna. Longman’s work laid the foundation for future research and sparked a curiosity that continues to drive paleontological exploration today.

Austrosaurus Size and Description

Short Description of Austrosaurus

Austrosaurus, a towering figure of the Early Cretaceous Period, exemplifies the grandeur of the sauropod lineage. With its long neck stretching towards the sky and a tail that counterbalanced its massive body, this dinosaur was a marvel of engineering. Its robust legs supported a hefty frame, designed to navigate the lush landscapes of ancient Australia. The skeletal remains, though fragmented, suggest a creature built for a life of gentle grazing, reaching up to the high canopies to feed.

Size and Weight of Type Species

The physical dimensions of Austrosaurus are impressive by any measure. Fossil evidence points to a height of about 12.8 feet at the hip and approximately 13.5 feet at the shoulder, creating an almost level back that would have been a distinctive feature among its contemporaries. This stature allowed it to access a variety of vegetation, from ground-level ferns to the higher branches of coniferous trees, making it a versatile feeder within its ecosystem.

Gregory S. Paul, a renowned paleontologist, provided a comprehensive estimate of Austrosaurus’s size, pegging it at an impressive length of 66.0 feet from head to tail. This estimation not only highlights the dinosaur’s significant presence within its habitat but also its status as one of the larger sauropods of its time. In terms of body mass, Austrosaurus is estimated to have weighed in at around 16.0 tons. This considerable mass underscores the dinosaur’s need for vast amounts of vegetation to sustain itself and suggests a slow-moving, yet formidable, presence within the ancient landscapes it inhabited.

Contemporary Dinosaurs

In the ancient landscapes that now lie beneath the Australian outback, Austrosaurus lumbered through the terrain, a behemoth among its peers, casting a long shadow over the smaller Australovenator. This towering sauropod, with its long neck stretching towards the canopy to graze on high foliage, existed in a realm where size did indeed matter. While Austrosaurus sought out the tallest trees for sustenance, Australovenator, a predator roughly the size of a modern-day sprinter but infinitely more fearsome, prowled the underbrush. Their interactions were not of direct competition; instead, they played a delicate dance of coexistence. 

Australovenator, agile and cunning, likely viewed Austrosaurus as too large a challenge, preferring to hunt smaller prey or scavenge, leaving the giant sauropod to roam freely, unless a young or sickly Austrosaurus strayed too far from the safety of its herd.

Meanwhile, Muttaburrasaurus, a contemporary that shared the landscape, offered a different dynamic. This large herbivore, though not as massive as Austrosaurus, competed more directly for the ground-level vegetation both dinosaurs favored. With its distinctive snout, Muttaburrasaurus could have been a common sight, grazing in areas where Austrosaurus had already cleared the higher foliage, possibly leading to a symbiotic relationship rather than one of direct rivalry. 

The interactions between these giants of the ancient world underscore the complexity of cretaceous ecosystems, where the battle for survival did not always hinge on brute force. Instead, it was the nuanced relationships and strategies for coexistence that defined the roles of Austrosaurus, Australovenator, and Muttaburrasaurus in their shared environment, painting a dynamic picture of ancient life where each species played a critical role.

Interesting Points about Austrosaurus

Austrosaurus in its Natural Habitat

Illustration of Austrosaurus mckillopi, a large sauropod dinosaur from the Early Cretaceous period. This herbivorous dinosaur, depicted with a long neck and tail, lived in what is now Australia. The image also includes a close-up of its head, showcasing its facial features.
Leoomas, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The ancient landscapes of Early Cretaceous Australia were vastly different from today, characterized by a warmer climate and abundant vegetation. In this lush environment, Austrosaurus thrived as a herbivore, feeding on the plentiful plant life that flourished in its habitat. Its long neck would have allowed it to reach a variety of vegetation, from ground-level ferns to higher conifer branches, making it a versatile feeder.

The locomotion of Austrosaurus, suggests a lifestyle adapted to navigating through dense vegetation. We don’t have pecific details about its social behavior. However, the nature of sauropods suggests that Austrosaurus might have lived in groups. Both providing safety in numbers as well as supporting the rearing of young.

This dinosaur’s presence in the ecosystem likely had a significant impact on the landscape, from the paths it trod to the plants it consumed. Its role as a major herbivore would have influenced plant diversity and distribution. Making a noticeable contribution to the dynamic balance of its ancient habitat.

Frequently Asked Questions

When did Austrosaurus live?

Austrosaurus roamed the Earth during the Early Cretaceous Period, around 105.3 to 100.5 million years ago.

Where was Austrosaurus discovered?

The first Austrosaurus fossils were unearthed in Queensland, Australia, in 1932.

What did Austrosaurus eat?

As a herbivore, Austrosaurus fed on a variety of plants, including ferns and possibly higher-growing vegetation.

How big was Austrosaurus?

While exact dimensions are challenging to determine due to incomplete fossils, Austrosaurus was undoubtedly a large sauropod.

Was Austrosaurus the only dinosaur of its kind found in Australia?

Austrosaurus is among the few sauropods discovered in Australia, highlighting its unique presence in the continent’s fossil record.


The information in this article is based on various sources, drawing on scientific research, fossil evidence, and expert analysis. The aim is to provide a comprehensive and accurate overview of Austrosaurus. However, please be aware that our understanding of dinosaurs and their world is constantly evolving as new discoveries are made.

Article last fact checked: Joey Arboleda, 02-14-2024

Featured Image Credit: Levi bernardo, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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