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Home / Science / These amazing opals have turned out to be a hitherto unknown species of dinosaur

These amazing opals have turned out to be a hitherto unknown species of dinosaur



You only wish you could be this amazing millions of years after your death. Gems recovered from Australia's opal fields have not only turned out to be opalescent fossils, but also opalized fossils of a dinosaur previously unknown to paleontology.

It is named Weewarrasaurus pobeni – named after the opal field "Wee Warra" near the town of Lightning Ridge, where it was found, and the opal buyer Mike Poben, who donated the specimens of science.

] This creature lived nearly 100 million years ago in the Cretaceous, when the current desert of Lightning Ridge was still a lush green area.

She is also the first new dinosaur species to have been named in the Australian state of New South Wales in almost a century.

The only found fragment of Weewarrasaurus (1

9459005) salvaged was the lower jaw, but with teeth intact. For one, it was not a big dinosaur, only about the size of a medium-sized dog.

Because of his teeth and the shape of the jaw, paleontologist Phil Bell of the University of New England in Australia has found that it is a small species of ornithopod, a group of bipedal grazing herbivores that Iguanodon and Parasaurolophus [1945010] . (James Kuether / University of New England)

Lightning Ridge is one of Australia's fossil hotspots. It was once a rich floodplain on the edge of a vast inland sea, the Eromanga Sea, which spread across the Australian continent.

The once-abundant prehistoric life that filled the area was often preserved in the mud, which, for thousands and millions of people, would turn into sandstone.

This is a process that is visible around the world. In Australia, however, something else happened.

When the inland sea disappeared 100 million years ago, the acidity in the drying sandstone increased. This in turn released silica from the rock, which accumulated in depressions and pockets, such as those left by decayed bones.

With the decrease in acidity, these silicate pockets hardened to opal, resulting in a perfect shimmering rainbow shapes of ancient remains. Nowhere else in the world has this opalization been so abundant as Lightning Ridge.

And that's exactly what Poben found, who found the two parts of the opalized jawbone in a bag of rough opals, which he bought as a miner by John Pickrell for National Geographic .

So Poben brought his discovery to Bell.

"I remember that Mike showed me the copy and dropped my chin down so I had to try to curb my excitement," Bell said.

But it's not only beautiful. In their paper, Bell and his colleagues find that only one or two large ornithopods (19459004), Muttaburrasaurus were at home in Australia, and one that is under investigation, this seems much richer in the smaller varieties.

Based on fossils found in Lightning Ridge, there may have been small species of ornithopods that thrived on the lush vegetation, and four more in the southeastern state of Victoria. In the northeastern state of Queensland only a small species was found.

This is very different from America, where smaller herbivores had to compete with giants such as Triceratops and Alamosaurus .

For example, fossils such as Weewarrasaurus are much more than just a pretty face – they can help us to understand how the biodiversity of dinosaurs around the world differs and how this diversity may have arisen

Bell and his team are currently working hard on describing more opalescent fossils – a difficult task as they are usually considered broken as part of mining clearance.

Weewarrasaurus has since been given a problem New Home at Lightning Ridge's Australian Opal Center, among its amazing collection of opalescent fossils.

The teamwork was published in the journal PeerJ .


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