|Name Meaning||Southern Hunter||Height||1.8 meters (5.9 feet)|
|Pronunciation||Aw-straw-low-ven-ey-tore||Length||5-6 meters (16.4-19.7 feet)|
|Era||Mesozoic – Late Cretaceous||Weight||0.55 tons (1,102 lbs)|
|Classification||Dinosauria, Saurischia & Theropoda||Location||Winton, Australia|
An inhabitant of Late Cretaceous Australia, the Australovenator is now famous among scientists and dinosaur enthusiasts!
The specimen discovered northwest of Winton is now Australia’s most complete theropod skeleton!
The Australovenator existed 95 million years ago and lived in a territory filled with various water sources and plants like conifers, tree ferns, and ginkgos.
It was a bipedal carnivore that relied primarily on its agility and powerful, clawed forelimbs to catch and kill prey.
Although the dinosaur was discovered in 2006, paleontologists are still exploring the area, and new fossils are continuously unearthed, thus providing more details about the appearance and behavior of the Australovenator.
At the same time, this information helps us shape the Australian world of the Late Cretaceous.
The Australovenator had a typical theropod appearance.
It was a bipedal dinosaur, so, naturally, its forelimbs were shorter than the hind limbs, which were highly muscular, thus allowing fast running.
However, the forelimbs weren’t useless.
They were of tremendous help in catching and killing prey. Each forelimb bore three fingers equipped with curved claws.
The Australovenator’s head was relatively elongated, the neck was short but robust enough to support the head, and the tail was quite long.
Although the skull is poorly known because of a lack of material, it was likely lightly built and featured small teeth.
Australovenator was roughly 1.8 meters (5.9 feet) tall at the hips and 5–6 meters (16.4–19.7 feet) long.
It likely weighed approximately 500 kilograms (1,102 pounds).
Other dinosaurs in the same family, Megaraptoridae, measured roughly the same.
The Murusraptor, for example, was 6.4 meters (21.3 feet) long, while the Orkoraptor was 6 meters (20 feet) long.
An exception is Megaraptor, which reached 8 meters (26.2 feet) in length and one metric ton (1.1 short ton) in weight.
Habitat and Distribution
The only specimen associated with the genus was discovered in the Winton Formation in central-western Queensland, Australia.
The Australovenator existed roughly 95 million years ago.
At the time, the Australian territory was covered in meandering rivers, creeks, lakes, forest pools and swamps, and coastal estuaries.
The rivers were likely as huge as today’s Amazon River.
Fossil discoveries revealed that Late Cretaceous Australia supported the growth of horsetail plants, tree ferns, ginkgos, vascular plants, araucarias (conifer trees), and various flowering plants.
The climate was likely warmer than today. In fact, when the Australovenator was alive, our planet registered the Cenomanian-Turonian Thermal Maximum event, during which temperatures were unusually high.
By the time the temperatures cooled down, the Australovenator had already gone extinct.
Behavior and Diet
The Australovenator was an agile predator. One of the most fascinating aspects of its predating technique is related to the flexibility of its arms.
Studies have shown that it could extend its forearms at an angle of 144 degrees and flex them at an arc of 66 degrees.
This mobility enhanced the dinosaur’s ability to draw prey closer to its chest.
The first ungual had a blade-like shape, and its morphology allowed for high flexibility, which further helped catch and hold prey.
Additionally, the high finger flexibility puts the Australovenator in a unique position among theropods, as no other genera have shown such mobility.
As such, upon catching prey and holding it close to the chest, the Australovenator relied on its teeth to tear flesh apart.
Since its jaws were quite weak compared to the jaws of other theropods, the Australovenator would not have been such a good predator if it weren’t for its strong arms.
Some studies have shown that the Australovenator may have used its feet to deliver kicks, but it remains unknown whether this behavior was used in killing prey or in territorial or intraspecific fights, if any.
Based on what is known about theropod prey and other creatures known from the Winton Formation, which revealed the Australovenator specimen, we can assume that these predators hunted sauropods, ornithopods, and possibly ankylosaurs, although the latter were probably difficult to kill as they had armored bodies.
While predators like T-Rex may have been able to deliver bites strong enough to crush ankylosaur-typical bony osteoderms, the Australovenator had relatively weak jaws and probably would not have been able to reach past the armor.
Like all dinosaurs, the Australovenator reproduced by laying eggs.
Male dinosaurs had a retractable penis and internal testes, while females possessed paired ovaries and oviducts, which is why they laid eggs in pairs.
Additionally, female theropods are known to have had a crocodilian-like internal system, where mature eggs awaited fertilization.
As mentioned, the eggs were likely laid in pairs, distinguishing theropods from modern birds, as they lay only one egg at a time since they have only one functional ovary.
Additionally, while birds lay either one egg a day or one egg every few days to complete the clutch, theropods probably laid the eggs in one sitting, within minutes, not days.
This makes theropods more similar to crocodiles, which lay 16-80 eggs in less than an hour.
Since no Australovenator eggs or nesting sites have been discovered, we cannot confirm any details regarding incubation, egg size and form, or nesting behavior.
However, we can turn to what is known about theropods in general and hope that at least some of these aspects were also valid for the Australovenator.
As such, it has been suggested that theropod eggs were likely elongated and may have featured a textured surface, possibly with raised bumps or depressions.
However, a smooth egg texture cannot be fully excluded.
It is known that at least some theropods incubated the eggs, but we cannot confirm whether this was true for the Australovenator.
And even if incubation occurred, it remains unknown how many days it took for the eggs to hatch, who incubated them, and whether adults exhibited parental care.
The growth rate of Australovenator is also poorly studied, but scientists suggest that theropods exceeding a body mass of 1,000 kilograms (2,205 pounds) grew much faster than small theropods.
Evolution and History
The earliest theropods (herrerasaurids) date from the Late Triassic. They inhabited North America, South America, and possibly South Africa and India.
Herrerasaurids were small theropods, not exceeding a length of 4 meters (13 feet).
However, their classification within the Theropoda clade is highly debated, as many scientists believe they were rather saurischian basal dinosaurs.
That’s why today the official most primitive theropods are the members of the Coelophysoidea, which lived from the early Late Triassic until the late Early Jurassic.
Later on, more advanced theropods appeared. They were called ceratosaurs diversified. The members of the Tetanurae were even more specialized than ceratosaurs.
In turn, Tetanurae is divided into Megalosauroidea and Avetheropoda, the Australovenator being part of the latter.
The Avetheropoda consisted of theropods more closely related to birds.
It was further divided into Carnosauria, Megaraptora, and Coelurosauria.
The Australovenator is classified under Megaraptora.
Supposedly, megaraptorans originated in Late Jurassic Asia.
During the Early Cretaceous, the Gondwanan lineage diverged and gave rise to the Megaraptoridae, of which the Australovenator is part.
The Australian megaraptorans may have been evidence not only of immigrant taxa but also of two-way interchange between Australia, Antarctica, and South America.
Is the classification of Australovenator set in stone? Unfortunately, it is not, but this isn’t unusual for prehistoric creatures.
Although it is now classified as mentioned above, many other theories have been discussed that would imply a different lineage for the Australovenator.
The only Australovenator specimen was discovered in 2006 at a location called the “Matilda site.”
Fossils included teeth, left dentary, partial hindlimbs and forelimbs, ribs, a partial right ilium, and gastralia.
This material served as the base for describing the species Australovenator wintonensis in 2009.
In 2012, paleontologists unearthed additional arm material, which improved the description of the species.
The year 2013 revealed new leg material, while the year 2015 was marked by new dentary elements.
Interactions with Other Species
The Winton Formation revealed multiple fossils belonging to various prehistoric creatures, of which some are the following:
- Crocodyliformed like Confractosuchus and Isisfordia
- Sauropods like Australotitan, Wintonotitan, Diamantinasaurus, Savannasaurus
- Unidentified ornithopods, ankylosaurs, and titanosauriformes
- Pterosaurs like Ferrodraco
Considering that the Australovenator may have been the only carnivorous dinosaur in the habitat, we may argue that it was an apex predator that probably hunted sauropods and other herbivores.
However, the territory was also home to ferocious crocodylomorphs like Confractosuchus sauroktonos, which translates to broken dinosaur killer.
This crocodyliform was discovered with an ornithopod in its abdomen, suggesting it was strong enough to kill larger dinosaurs.
So was the Australovenator indeed an apex predator? This remains unknown.
Maybe it was even preyed upon by the Confractosuchus, although this is highly unlikely as the large size of the Australovenator, its agility, and its strong forelimbs were probably enough to escape a crocodyliform.
Instead, the Australovenator may have competed for food with the Confractosuchus.
That is, if the Confractosuchus did not choose only juvenile prey. In this case, the two would rely on prey of different sizes and not compete with each other.
The Australovenator is now part of the largest Australian collection of dinosaur fossils and is exhibited at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum alongside Diamantinasaurus, Savannasurus, Confractosuchus, and Ferrodraco.
The Australovenator specimen is the most complete theropod skeleton discovered in Australia.
As such, the specimen served as the subject of multiple research papers, some of which focused particularly on rebuilding the muscles and tendons of this theropod’s forearms and hind limbs.
The material associated with the genus was also scanned, and the results were transformed into three-dimensional images, now available to the public as dinosaur reconstructions.
One of the most renowned media productions that features an Australovenator is the documentary Australia: The First 4.5 Billion Years. It is portrayed as a dinosaur named Banjo.
Also known as the southern hunter king, the Australovenator was a Late Cretaceous theropod living in a territory we now call Australia.
The only specimen associated with the genus was discovered northwest of Winton in the lower part of the Winton Formation.
The Australovenator was a bipedal carnivore reaching approximately 6 meters (19.7 feet) in length.
Its hindlimbs were long and well-built, providing the dinosaur with the required muscles for fast running.
Although the forelimbs were short, they were strong, highly flexible, and equipped with large claws used to hold onto prey.
Since the jaws of the Australovenator were relatively weak, the forelimbs played an essential role in feeding.
The Australovenator specimen is the most complete theropod skeleton discovered in Australia.
Therefore, its paleontological importance is immeasurable.