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Modern Dinosaur Discoveries

Modern Dinosaur Discoveries in Australia

Ralph Molnar of the Queensland Museum researched dinosaurs in Australia. In 1980, he described Australia's first armored dinosaur, Minmi. With Neville Pledge, he wrote up the small predator Kakuru, which was known only from pieces of fossils. These were the first dinosaurs to be described from Australia since Huene's work in 1932. In 1981, Alan Bartholomai and Molnar wrote up the herbivore Muttaburrasaurus, which is similar to Iguanodon. Muttaburrasaurus was the first almost complete Australian dinosaur ever skeleton found.

Also working in Australia were the husband-and-wife team of Thomas and Patricia Rich. They worked along the southern shore, where they found dinosaur-bearing Early Cretaceous rocks. The fossils were fragmentary and were in hard stone that was difficult to work, but they found enough material to show an unusual dinosaur fauna.

During much of the Cretaceous Period, Australia was close to the South Pole. For two or three months each year, the region was nearly always dark and the winter temperature must have been extremely cold. The dinosaurs that the Riches found were small and active, with oversize eyes that they believed adapted to life in semidarkness.

No paleontologist has doubted that dinosaurs lived in Antarctica during the Mesozoic Era, but it is difficult to find dinosaurs when ice caps two miles thick cover most of the continent. In the 1980s, however, an expedition led by Zulma de Gasparini and her coworkers at Argentina's Museum of La Plata brought back the remains of Antarctica's first known dinosaur. It was an armored form resembling North America's Ankylosaurus. The find was perplexing, since that type of dinosaur is rare.

Some of the most interesting work is not always the discovery of new and unusual dinosaurs. For some paleontologists, the most interesting work is the analysis of fossils gathered years, decades, or even a century ago. We do not know what piece of fossil may lead to new insights into dinosaur behavior or evolution. With the continuing work of dedicated scientists, our knowledge of these wonderful creatures increases almost daily.