Dicynodonts Fossil Found in Tasmania
A leisurely beach stroll on the Tasmanian Peninsula has led to a significant fossil discovery by a couple, Bob and Penny Tyson. The fossils are of a dicynodont, a strange-looking species that pre-dates the dinosaurs by 30 million years, and it confirms its existence in Australia. Furthermore, this discovery confirms the existence of dicynodonts on all the continents.
Dicynodonts Were Herbivores
Dicynodonts were plant-eaters that attained a size similar to that of a cow. They lived ca. 250 million years ago and survived for a very long time, becoming extinct ca. 20 million years ago.
The Tasmanian discovery was of two pieces of skull and, with another fossil found in 1983 in Queensland, it forms the basis for scientists to deduce its existence in Australia. In contrast, discoveries from South Africa and India have been of complete dicynodont fossils.
Dicynodonts May Have Thrived in Australia
Dr Andrew Rozefelds, a palaeontologist at the Queensland Museum, speculates that these odd-looking beasts may have managed to survive for longer on the Australian continent than on any other. With Australia being an island continent it is likely that groups such as the monotremes (e.g. echidna and platypus) survived there while becoming extinct on other continents. Despite the presence of better dicynodont fossil remains on continents such as Antarctica, Dr Rozefelds is confident that more material of this group will be found in Australia.
Dicynodonts Presence Only Confirmed in 2011
The Tyson couple made their discovery of dicynodont tusk fragments some years ago; the pieces were lodged in rocks amongst some seaweeds at the low tide mark. According to Ms Tyson, the fragments were on top of the rock surface, ‘waiting to be knocked off’ since the rock that surrounded it had been worn away. The confirmation of its identity has finally been published by Australian researchers in late 2011.
What Did Dicynodonts Look Like?
Dicynodonts were creatures that typically had splayed legs, with the skull ending in a horned beak, and with the front of the skull adorned with a pair of tusks. The fossils from Tasmania point to a skull that was 10 – 12 inches long, with tusks reaching 6 inches in length. The remains of the Australian specimens lead scientists to suggest that these dicynodonts may have been the largest found on any continent. Dicynodonts are also believed to have lived and fed out in the open, rather than using the protection of burrows; this exposure could then explain why fossils have so far been scarce in Australia.