Australia’s biggest carnivorous dinosaur forced to take a walk

Dec 20, 2010
Hypothesised reconstruction of the large Lark Quarry track-maker. Illustration by Anthony Romilio, The University of Queensland.

( -- Doubt has been cast over the only known piece of evidence that large carnivorous dinosaurs once roamed Australia, following new research by The University of Queensland (UQ).

A set of footprints at Lark Quarry Conservation Park, south of Winton in central-western Queensland, was the only evidence that was once home to large carnivorous dinosaurs as big as or Allosaurus fragilus.

For the past 30 years, these footprints were believed to show a large meat-eating dinosaur chasing a herd of smaller dinosaurs. The site is world famous as it is also thought to be the only example of a dinosaur stampede.

However, a new study by palaeontologists from UQ has shown that these tracks probably don't belong to a large theropod at all, and were most likely left by a large herbivore akin to Muttaburrasaurus.

UQ's School of Biological Sciences PhD candidate, Anthony Romilio, led the research, which has been published in the latest issue of the journal Cretaceous Research.

Mr Romilio made the discovery after comparing the lengths and other characteristic measurements of the famous footprints.

“Making the distinction between the three-toed tracks of herbivorous ornithopod dinosaurs and the three-toed tracks of carnivorous theropod dinosaurs can be quite difficult,” Mr Romilio said.

“This confusion has lead to numerous ornithopod dinosaur tracks being incorrectly identified as belonging to theropods, and vice versa.

“Since 1979, the large three-toed tracks at Lark Quarry have been regarded as being similar to Tyrannosauropus footprints from the US.

“As the name implies, these tracks were thought to have been made by T. rex. But in 1994 it was shown that they most likely belonged to a large ornithopod dinosaur, not a theropod,” Mr Romilio said.

“Ironically, these were probably similar to the dinosaurs upon which T. rex preyed.”

The UQ researchers took measurements from all eleven footprints at Lark Quarry and compared the shape with other ornithopod and theropods footprints from around the world.

Threshold values for specific foot proportions enabled them to distinguish between the tracks made by each type of dinosaur.

“The footprint analysis shows overwhelmingly that the Lark Quarry tracks were made by an ornithopod dinosaur,” Mr Romilio said.

“The best preserved prints show a remarkable similarity in overall size, shape and claw outline to ornithopod tracks from Canada named Amblydactlyus gethingi. These features mean that we need to re-name the large Lark Quarry tracks Amblydactlyus cf. A. gethingi.

“The were probably made by a large ornithopod, standing over 2.5 metres tall at the hips. The claw impressions indicate that it was one of the more primitive members of this dinosaur group. Based on the age and location of Lark Quarry, we propose that the track-maker may have been a dinosaur similar to Muttaburrasaurus langdoni.”

Fossils of Muttaburrasaurus are known from similarly aged rocks near Muttaburra and Hughenden, both of which are only a few hundred kilometres from Lark Quarry.

Mr Romilio's supervisor, Dr Steve Salisbury, said the previous identification of the Lark Quarry tracks as belonging to a T. rex- or Allosaurus-sized predator was central to the interpretation of the track site as a stampede.

“The approach of the large dinosaur was thought to have triggered the stampede of 150-170 smaller dinosaurs across a mud flat nearly 100 million years ago,” Dr Salisbury said.

“Whether the presence of a large herbivore like Muttaburrasaurus was enough to spook a herd of smaller into a stampede is now unclear. Further research on the actual nature of the stampede itself is what we are now focusing on.”

Explore further: Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Related Stories

In the footsteps of dinosaurs

Oct 27, 2010

( -- A geosciences grad student is piecing together evidence about dinosaurs from fossilized footprints.

British boy spots dinosaur tracks

Feb 24, 2008

An 8-year-old boy found a pair of 160-million-year-old dinosaur tracks on the beach near his home in England, it was reported.

Ancient mammal tracks found at national monument

Jul 24, 2009

(AP) -- Hundreds of tiny footprints left by mammals some 190 million years ago have been found on a canyon wall in a remote part of Dinosaur National Monument, park officials said Thursday.

Recommended for you

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

5 hours ago

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Crowd-sourcing Britain's Bronze Age

Apr 17, 2014

A new joint project by the British Museum and the UCL Institute of Archaeology is seeking online contributions from members of the public to enhance a major British Bronze Age archive and artefact collection.

Roman dig 'transforms understanding' of ancient port

Apr 17, 2014

( —Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton have discovered a new section of the boundary wall of the ancient Roman port of Ostia, proving the city was much larger than previously ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.