cut and polished section of the trunk of the osmundalean fern, scientific name Millerocaulis donponii

Fossils of Queensland's past

Fossil Icons from Queensland Museum Collection

Queensland Museum Network’s collection was established over 160 years ago and is managed, curated, researched and conserved on behalf of the people of Queensland. The fossil collection is one of the largest in the Southern Hemisphere, and contains everything from microscopic fossil pollen to enormous dinosaurs. Fossils in the collection tell stories about the deep history of Queensland, and also the larger saga of life on Earth. Here are twelve highlights from the collection.

Plants

Lovellea wintonensis
Lovellea wintonensis is a rare example of a fossil flower that is permineralised, meaning that it is preserved in three dimensions. Most fossil flowers are preserved as flattened impressions, but permineralised specimens include a much larger amount of anatomical information. This is particularly important in the case of Lovellea, as it is the oldest permineralised flower from Australia, and one of the oldest in the world. Because the petals and stamens are so well preserved, Lovellea wintonensis can be compared with the flowers of modern plant families. These floral features indicate that this plant is probably related to the laurel families, which are mainly found in rainforests, but the exact familial relationships remain unknown. Fossils of Lovellea wintonensis were found near Winton in central Queensland, and date to the end of the Lower Cretaceous period, about 100 million years ago.

Palissya tillackiorum
Palissya tillackiorum is the female cone of an extinct conifer. It is permineralised, preserving its three-dimensional structure, including the seeds. While Palissya-like cones have been found elsewhere in the world, the specimens from Queensland allowed researchers to confidently reconstruct the entire structure of these cones for the first time. These fossils were discovered near Chinchilla in south east Queensland and are roughly 132-140 million years old (Lower Cretaceous period).

cut and polished section through the fossil conifer cone Palissya tillackiorum

Cut and polished section through the fossil conifer cone Palissya tillackiorum. Image: Queensland Museum, Geoff Thompson.

Vertebrates

Obdurodon dicksoni
Obdurodon dicksoni is an extinct platypus that has a set of teeth that were used to crush prey, likely yabbies and aquatic insects. This is remarkable for a platypus, as the modern platypus lacks teeth as an adult, although puggles (young platypuses) have teeth for a short time. Fossil teeth of monotremes (the group that includes modern platypuses and echidnas) have been found in rocks dating back to the Cretaceous period, but as this skull is beautifully preserved and relatively complete, it provides insights into how the platypus has changed over the last 20 million years. The skull was found at the Riversleigh World Heritage Area in north western Queensland.

fossil skull of toothed platypus, Obdurodon dicksoni on a black background

Fossil skull of the toothed platypus Obdurodon dicksoni. Image: Queensland Museum.

Isisfordia duncani
The fossil remains of Isisfordia duncani are beautifully preserved, with almost every bone present and in their original position. Isisfordia duncani is one of the oldest crocodiles known from Australia, but some features of the anatomy are surprisingly modern-looking, suggesting Isisfordia duncani may be a close relative of all living crocodiles. It was found near the town of Isisford in western Queensland.

assembled fossil skeleton of a Cretaceous crocodyliform, scientific name Isisfordia duncani

Fossil skeleton of the Cretaceous crocodyliform Isisfordia duncani. Image: Queensland Museum, Peter Waddington.

Richmond polycotylid
Some of our most important specimens are still waiting to be formally named. The Richmond polycotylid is a medium-sized plesiosaur with a relatively large head and long, slender jaws. It is the most complete fossil of a plesiosaur found in Australia, only missing a few bones from one paddle. Polycotylid fossils have been found around the world in marine rocks from the Cretaceous period, and the Richmond polycotylid is one of the oldest members of this group. It was found near the town of Richmond in north Queensland, in rocks that date to 100-113 million years ago (Lower Cretaceous period).

Kronosaurus queenslandicus
Kronosaurus queenslandicus was a fierce predator—an enormous pliosaur with a massive head and a short-neck. It was a marine reptile distantly related to the long-necked plesiosaurs. The jaws contain rows of large conical teeth, the biggest of which were nearly 30 centimetres in length. Fossil remains of other animals have been found as stomach contents in Kronosaurus, which indicate that it fed on turtles, other smaller marine reptiles, fishes and sharks.

Eromangasaurus australis
Eromangasaurus australis is an elasmosaur, a type of plesiosaur with an extremely long, slender neck. Some elasmosaurs had more than 70 vertebrae in their necks, more than any other type of animal. This plesiosaur is known from a single skull and a small number of associated neck vertebrae. This skull is crushed but is complete, with the lower jaw still in place. It is currently the only complete elasmosaur skull from Australia. Teeth marks on the skull are thought to be evidence of an attack by a large predator, possibly a Kronosaurus. Eromangasaurus was found near Maxwelton in north Queensland.

Muttaburrasaurus langdoni
Muttaburrasaurus langdoni is an ornithopod dinosaur. This group also includes famous dinosaurs such as the Iguanodon and Parasaurolophus. Muttaburrasaurus differed from other ornithopods by having an inflated, bulbous snout and a powerful bite with specialised shearing teeth. This was the first Australian dinosaur whose fossil remains were complete enough to allow the mounting of its skeleton in a museum display. Casts of the skeleton of Muttaburrasaurus can be seen in museums around Australia. The first fossils of Muttaburrasaurus were found near the town of Muttaburra in central Queensland, in rocks that formed on the bottom of an inland sea about 100 million years ago (Lower Cretaceous period).

Rhoetosaurus brownei
Rhoetosaurus brownei is a medium-sized sauropod dinosaur and is the only dinosaur skeleton known from the Jurassic period in Australia. Like other sauropods, Rhoetosaurus had a long neck that allowed it to browse vegetation that was beyond the reach of most other herbivores. It has some features that are shared with some of the earliest sauropods known elsewhere in the world. For example, the skeleton shows that it had four claws on the hind foot, while later sauropods had only three. The partial skeleton of Rhoetosaurus was found near Roma in southern Queensland, and is about 163 million years old (Upper Jurassic period).

Siderops kehli
Siderops kehli was more than three metres long with a massive head and huge jaws bristling with teeth. It was an ambush predator that looked like a snub-nosed crocodile, but was actually a type of amphibian. The skeleton is nearly complete and is one of the few vertebrates known from the Jurassic period in Australia. At the time of its discovery, it was the youngest member of its lineage, the temnospondyls, which were previously thought to have died out much earlier. More recent discoveries from Victoria show that temnospondyls survived much longer in Australia than in other parts of the world. Siderops kehli was found near Wandoan in south eastern Queensland, and is about 177 million years old (Lower Jurassic period).

fossil skeleton of the of the temnospondyl amphibian Siderops kehli

Fossil skeleton of the temnospondyl amphibian Siderops kehli. Image: Queensland Museum, Peter Waddington.

Invertebrates

Woodwardopterus freemanorum
Some of our most interesting discoveries are based on fragmentary fossils. Eurypterids (“sea scorpions”) are large arthropods. They somewhat resemble (and are distantly related to) modern scorpions, but were adapted to living in water, and some species grew to enormous sizes. Woodwardopterus freemanorum was discovered near Theodore in Central Queensland. It is the first fossil of a sea scorpion from Queensland, and is also the youngest sea scorpion found anywhere in the world. Only a small piece of the animal’s exoskeleton is preserved so the scientists who named it were unsure of which genus it belonged in. This is why it is tentatively placed in Woodwardopterus, to which it seems to be most closely related. This sea scorpion lived in freshwater coal swamps about 252-254 million years ago, at the very end of the Permian period. At the end of the Permian a major mass extinction devastated life on Earth, and the sea scorpions all became extinct.

Life restoration of the eurypterid Woodwardopterus freemanorum

Life restoration of the eurypterid Woodwardopterus freemanorum. Image: Queensland Museum, Alison Douglas.

fossil of woodwardopterus with accompanying detailed sketch on the right

Photograph of Woodwardopterum freemanorum fossil with accompanying line drawing. Image: Queensland Museum.

Ridersia watsonae
Ridersia watsonae is a stalked echinoderm (relative of starfish and sea cucumbers) that lived in shallow seas that covered north western Queensland during the latter part of the Cambrian period (about 489-497 million years ago). It is amongst the earliest known sea lily-like animals. The body of this animal consists of a complex multi-plated skeleton, like a modern sea star. Ridersia provides a unique insight into the early evolution of the echinoderms, at a time when many groups of animals were evolving rapidly and experimenting with new body types.

fossils of the Fossils of the Cambrian echinoderm, Ridersia watsonae fossilised in limestone

Fossils of the Cambrian echinoderm Ridersia watsonae in limestone. Image: Queensland Museum, Bruce Cowell.


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