Australian Paleontologists Unearth 100-Million-Year-Old Elasmosaur Fossil

Paleontologists in Australia have unearthed the country’s first head and associated body of a long-necked marine reptile called Eromangasaurus australis.

The new specimen and silhouette of Eromangasaurus australis. Image credit: Queensland Museum.

The new specimen and silhouette of Eromangasaurus australis. Image credit: Queensland Museum.

Eromangasaurus australis is an elasmosaur, a type of plesiosaur with an extremely long, slender neck.

The prehistoric reptile lived during the Cretaceous period, approximately 100 million years ago.

The animal was up to 10 m (33 feet) long and ate marine animals, such as fish and squid.

The new Eromangasaurus australis specimen was discovered by in western Queensland, Australia, by a fossil hunting trio called the ‘Rock Chicks’ (Cassandra, Sally and Cynthia).

Queensland Museum Network paleontologist Espen Knutsen and colleagues recently traveled to the remote site to collect the fossil.

“This would be the first known head and body of an Australian elasmosaur to be held in a museum collection,” Dr. Knutsen said.

“We were extremely excited when we saw this fossil — it is like the Rosetta Stone of marine paleontology as it may hold the key to unraveling the diversity and evolution of long-necked plesiosaurs in Cretaceous Australia.”

“We have never found a body and a head together and this could hold the key to future research in this field.”

“Because these plesiosaurs were two-thirds neck, often the head would be separated from the body after death, which makes it very hard to find a fossil preserving both together, so we are using CT scanning to give us an insight into these magnificent animals.”

“We now hold the only head and body of an Australian elasmosaur in the world, and this significant find will contribute greatly to vital research into Queensland’s Cretaceous past,” said Queensland Museum Network CEO Dr. Jim Thompson.

“Queensland’s remote regions continue to unearth unique and historic fossil finds that help reveal stories of our world from 100 million years ago,” said Queensland’s Minister for Housing and Communities, Minister for Digital Economy, and Minister for the Arts.

“During the early Cretaceous period, much of Queensland was covered in a vast, shallow sea called the Eromanga Sea and fossil remains of the ocean’s inhabitants, including marine reptiles, such as plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs are commonly found across the state,” the paleontologists said.

“To help answer questions about their origins and ecologies, this and other new specimens along with modern analytical methodologies will help lift the veil on their prehistoric lives.”

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