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Queensland Museum palaeontologists have uncovered Australia’s first head and associated body of a 100-million-year-old long-necked marine reptile.
The team of palaeontologists led by Dr Espen Knutsen recently travelled to the Western Queensland site to collect the fossil of the elasmosaur, which is a plesiosaur that co-existed with dinosaurs during the early Cretaceous period. It is rare to find a preserved head and body together as these fragments are usually separated after death due to the long slender neck of this animal.
Several other specimens including fragments from an ichthyosaur were also collected and will be transported to Queensland Museum Tropics in Townsville for further research. The discovery of these specimens combined with modern analytical methodologies may hold the key to unraveling the diversity and evolution of marine reptiles in Cretaceous Australia.
During the Early Cretaceous period (~100 mya) much of Queensland was covered in a vast, shallow sea. The fossil remains of the animals, including marine reptiles such as plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs, are commonly found at numerous localities across the state. Due to a long collection history, a significant amount of material is already present in museum collections but remains largely undescribed or understudied.
Queensland Museum Senior Curator, Dr Espen Knutsen and his team are conducting further research to paint a comprehensive picture of Cretaceous marine reptiles from Queensland, the environment they lived in and how these creatures have changed over time.
This research is conducted in collaboration with James Cook University and Traditional Owners.