Meet ‘Eric’: the new dinosaur discovered in Victoria

By on 19 May, 2020

An artist’s impression of ‘Eric’, the Victorian Elaphrosaur. Artist: Ruairidh Duncan.

A discovery by a volunteer has led to the identification of a new Australian dinosaur by researchers at Swinburne University.

In 2015, a volunteer excavator at the Dinosaur Dreaming palaentology project discovered a large, delicate and most unusual bone at a Cretaceous fossil site known as Eric the Red West near Cape Otway, Victoria.

Almost five years later, palaentologists from Swinburne University have determined that the vertebra belongs to the first Australian elaphrosaur, a Cretaceous-era toothless, land-dwelling dinosaur – a far cry from the flying pterosaur it was originally thought to be.

Swinburne’s Dr. Stephen Poropat and PhD candidate Adele Pentland said that the discovery was initially puzzling.

“Pterosaur neck vertebrae are very distinctive. In all known pterosaurs, the body of the vertebra has a socket at the head end, and a ball or condyle at the body end. This vertebra had sockets at both ends, so it could not have been from a pterosaur,” Ms. Pentland said.

“We soon realised that the neck bone we were studying was from a theropod: a meat-eating dinosaur, related to Tyrannosaurus rex, Velociraptor, and modern birds,” said Dr Poropat.

“The only catch – this ‘meat-eating dinosaur’ probably didn’t eat meat!”

This new Victorian elaphrosaur dates from the Early Cretaceous period, around 110 million years ago — about 40 million years later thank most of its known relatives —Elaphrosaurus from Tanzania and Limusaurus from China, which both lived towards the end of the Jurassic.

Dr. Poropat said that Elaphrosaurs had long necks, stumpy arms with small hands, and relatively lightly built bodies.

“As dinosaurs go, they were rather bizarre. The few known skulls of elaphrosaurs show that the youngsters had teeth, but that the adults lost their teeth and replaced them with a horny beak. We don’t know if this is true for the Victorian elaphrosaur yet — but we might find out if we ever discover a skull,” he said.

Further digs at Eric the Red West have been delayed by bushfires and Covid-19, but the new elaphrosaur has been affectionately named ‘Eric’ in the meantime.

The paper describing the new elaphrosaur was published in Gondwana Research.

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