Palm-Sized Baby Dinosaurs Found in Australia

The femur (thigh bone) of a hatchling-sized ornithopod dinosaur from Victoria compared to an Australian one-dollar coin. (Image: Justin Kitchener)
The femur (thigh bone) of a hatchling-sized ornithopod dinosaur from Victoria compared to an Australian one-dollar coin. (Image: Justin Kitchener)

Researchers have uncovered the first baby dinosaurs from Australia. The bones were discovered at several sites along the south coast of Victoria and near the outback town of Lightning Ridge in New South Wales. Some of the bones are so tiny that they likely to come from animals that had died while they were still in their eggs.

Slightly larger bones from Victoria come from animals that had recently hatched but were probably nest-bound. The research was carried out by palaeontologists from the Palaeoscience Research Centre at the University of New England and the Australian Opal Centre in Lightning Ridge.

Artist’s depiction of an ornithopod dinosaur tending its nest. (Image: James Kuether)

Artist’s depiction of an ornithopod dinosaur tending its nest. (Image: James Kuether)

The bones come from small-bodied ornithopod dinosaurs — two-legged herbivores that weighed roughly 20 kg when full grown — similar to Weewarrasaurus, which was recently discovered by members of the same team at Lightning Ridge. By comparison, the baby dinosaurs were only about 200 g when they died, less than the weight of a cup of water.

While the eggs themselves were not found, researchers used growth rings in the bones, similar to the rings in a tree trunk, to estimate the animals’ age. Justin Kitchener, a Ph.D. student at the University of New England, who also led the study, said:

100 million years ago, when these animals were being born, Australia was much closer to the poles. Southeastern Australia would have been between 60°S and 70°S, equivalent to modern-day Greenland. Although the climate at these latitudes was relatively warmer than they are today, like some Antarctic penguins, these dinosaurs would have endured long dark winters and possibly burrowed or hibernated to survive.

Because they are so delicate, egg shells and tiny bones rarely survive to become fossils. Dr. Phil Bell, a University of New England paleontologist who recognized the significance of the tiny bones from Lightning Ridge, said:

Provided by: University of New England [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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