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article imageClancy, Banjo, and Matilda, New Australian dinosaurs

By Paul Wallis     Jul 3, 2009 in Science
It's a secret. There is such a thing as Australian parochialism in paleontology, in naming dinosaurs, like everything else. Clancy, Banjo and Matilda are named after Banjo Patterson’s poem Clancy of the Overflow, and Waltzing Matilda.
Clancy and Matilda are Titanosaurs. Banjo is a big Raptor.
This is a real find, because although Australian dinosaurs are a pretty different group, (We even had a furry Allosaurus, in the Cretaceous. So there.) these are all new.
Clancy is an armored, or at least a heavily scaled, sauropod. The armor is interesting, because it also shows up on similar Chinese dinosaurs of the same family. Matilda is a big, unarmored, giant. The Titanosaurs were the biggest of all dinosaurs, and they were they only ones of that family of dinosaurs to make it through the Cretaceous. This find is important, because they’re also thin on the ground in terms of good specimens.
Banjo, however, is something quite new. As a sort of giant Velociraptor, he’s a predator, and his remains were found with the remains of Matilda. The Raptors are supposed to have been pack hunters, understandably enough, given the size of the big plant eaters, but Banjo is huge. He’s not the size of an Allosaurus, but he tries hard, and compared to other Raptors, he’s a monster. A pack of Banjos would have been like a wolfpack of middleweight carnivorous dinosaurs.
Banjo's size is another useful indicator of the environment of the time. Size, in any animal, has a lot to do with the amount of protein they can get. It looks like Banjo was pretty effective as a predator, to have the same basic morphology as the Velociraptors, but be so much bigger. It also means that prey was plentiful. During the dinosaur era, the ratio of predators to prey was quite different from the modern era, and the competition among predators was fierce. To have a family of big Raptors in the same ecosystem as giant sauropods means a very healthy ecology.
The discovery was a joint effort of the Queensland Museum (always thought the banana benders had to be good for something) and the Winton Australian Age of Dinosaurs, a non profit group.
Fortunately for the credibility of Australian paleontology, we don’t have to rely on Australian media reports. These have been very enthusiastic, but the net videos are almost incomprehensible in parts, even to me, as a sixth generation Aussie. QM has produced some good fact sheets for the three new dinosaur species.
Banjo, Matilda and Clancy are the biggest Australian dino finds in decades.
The picture that’s emerging from the current big wave of new finds from around the world is of a vastly more complex global ecosystem than anyone ever imagined. The Australian finds are helping fill in the big gaps in the Southern Hemisphere records. After the huge continental splits, the dinosaurs, which previously had a comparatively unified land mass to work with, diversified enormously. The big picture of Australian dinosaurs is now showing a current Cretaceous mode in the dino ecology, in the form of the Titanosaurs, and Banjo, as a super Raptor, quite up to par with northern standards, in northern Australia.
That may indicate some other ecological anomalies. It’s previously been considered that Australia, which was much further south in the Cretaceous, was then as now a place of different animals to the rest of the world. The presence of these big, comparatively modern, dinosaurs suggests that Australia may not have been as isolated as previously thought. It may be that north and south Australia had big differences during the Cretaceous.
Looks like a few previous concepts are about to go the same way as the dinosaurs, themselves.
More about Dinosaurs, Australia, Clancy, Prehistoric
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