10 Important Dinosaurs That Roamed Across Australia and Antarctica

Although Australia and Antarctica were far from the mainstream of dinosaur evolution during the Mesozoic era, these remote continents hosted their fair share of theropods, sauropods, and ornithopods. Here's a list of the 10 most important dinosaurs of Australia and Antarctica, ranging from Antarctopelta to Rhoetosaurus.

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Antarctopelta (ant-ARK-toe-PELL-tuh), Antarctic Shield

Ankylosaur dinosaur, artwork

The first dinosaur fossils ever to be discovered in Antarctica were found in 1986 on James Ross Island. These were fossils of the Antarctopelta, a classic ankylosaur, or armored dinosaur, with a small head and squat, low-slung body covered by tough, knobby scutes. It is thought that the armor of Antarctopelta had a strictly defensive, rather than metabolic, function 100 million years ago. Back then, Antarctica was a lush, temperate continent and not the frozen icebox it is today. If it had been that cold, a naked Antarctopelta would have made a quick snack for the larger meat-eating dinosaurs of its habitat.

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Australovenator (AW-strah-low-VEN-ah-tore), Australian Hunter

Digital illustration of Australovenator wintonensis dinosaur

Sergey Krasovskiy / Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

Closely related to the South American Megaraptor, the meat-eating Australovenator had a much sleeker build, so much so that one paleontologist has described this 300-pound dinosaur as the "cheetah" of Cretaceous Australia. Because the evidence for Australian dinosaurs is so scarce, it's unknown exactly what exactly the middle Cretaceous Australovenator preyed on, but multi-ton titanosaurs like Diamantinasaurus (the fossils of which have been discovered in close proximity) were almost certainly out of the question. 

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Cryolophosaurus (cry-o-LOAF-o-SOR-us), Cold-Crested Lizard

Digital illustration of Cryolophosaurus dinosaur

Corey Ford / Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

Informally known as "Elvisaurus," after the single, ear-to-ear crest across its forehead, Cryolophosaurus is the largest meat-eating dinosaur yet identified from Jurassic Antarctica (which isn't saying much, since it was only the second dinosaur ever to be discovered on the southern continent, after Antarctopelta). Insight into the lifestyle of this cold-crested lizard will have to await future fossil discoveries, though it's a sure bet that its colorful crest was a sexually selected characteristic meant to attract females during mating season. 

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Diamantinasaurus (dee-a-man-TEE-nuh-SOR-us), Diamantina River Lizard

Illustration of a diamantinasaurus

Titanosaurs, the huge, lightly armored descendants of the sauropods, had attained a global distribution by the end of the Cretaceous period, as witnessed by the discovery of the 10-ton Diamintinasaurus in Australia's Queensland province (in association with the bones of Australovenator). Still, Diamantinasaurus was no more (nor less) important than another contemporary titanosaur of middle Cretaceous Australia, the comparably sized ​Wintonotitan

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Glacialisaurus (glay-see-al-ee-SOR-us), Icy Lizard

Digital illustration of Massospondylus dinosaur

Corey Ford / Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

The only sauropodomorph, or prosauropod, ever discovered in Antarctica, Glacialisaurus was distantly related to the sauropods and titanosaurs of the later Mesozoic era (including the two Australian giants Diamantinasaurus and Wintonotitan). Announced to the world in 2007, the early Jurassic Glacialisaurus was closely related to the African plant-eater Massospondylus. Unfortunately, all we have so far of its remains are a partial foot and femur, or leg bone.

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Leaellynasaura (LAY-ah-ELL-ee-nah-SORE-ah), named after Leaellyn Rich

Digital illistration of leaellynasaura dinosaur.

Nobu Tamura / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

The difficult-to-pronounce Leaellynasaura is notable for two reasons. First, this is one of the few dinosaurs to be named after a little girl (the daughter of Australian paleontologists Thomas Rich and Patricia Vickers-Rich). And second, this tiny, big-eyed ornithopod subsisted in a brisk polar climate during the middle Cretaceous period, raising the possibility that it possessed something approaching a warm-blooded metabolism to help protect it from the cold.

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Minmi (MIN-mee), named after Minmi Crossing

Minmi paravertebra, a prehistoric era dinosaur from the Early Cretaceous period

Sergey Krasovskiy  / Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

Minmi wasn't the only ankylosaur of Cretaceous Australia, but it was almost certainly the dumbest. This armored dinosaur had an unusually small encephalization quotient (the ratio of its brain mass to its body mass), and it wasn't too impressive to look at either, with only minimal plating on its back and stomach and a modest weight of half a ton. This dinosaur wasn't named after Mini-Me from the Austin Powers movies, but rather Minmi Crossing in Queensland, Australia, where it was discovered in 1980.

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Muttaburrasaurus (muht-a-BUHR-a-SOR-us), Muttaburra Lizard

Illustration of Muttaburrasaurus in prehistoric landscape

If asked, the citizens of Australia would probably cite the Muttaburrasaurus as their favorite dinosaur. The fossils of this middle Cretaceous herbivorous ornithopod are some of the most complete ever to be discovered Down Under, and its sheer size (about 30 feet long and three tons) made it a true giant of Australia's sparse dinosaur ecosystem. To show how small the world used to be, Muttaburrassaurus was closely related to another famous ornithopod from halfway around the world, the North American and European Iguanodon.

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Ozraptor (OZ-rap-tore), Australian Thief

Digital illustration of Abelisaurus comahuensis

Sergey Krasovskiy / Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

The name Ozraptor is only partially accurate: Although this small dinosaur did live in Australia, it wasn't technically a raptor, like the North American Deinonychus or the Asian Velociraptor, but a type of theropod known as an abelisaur (after the South American Abelisaurus). Known by only a single tibia, Ozraptor is slightly more respectable in the paleontology community than the putative, still unnamed Australian tyrannosaur.

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Rhoetosaurus (REET-oh-SOR-us), Rhoetos Lizard

rhoetosaurus plant eaters
b44022101 / Getty Images

The largest sauropod ever discovered in Australia, Rhoetosaurus is especially important because it dates from the middle, rather than the late, Jurassic period (and thus appeared on the scene much earlier than two Australian titanosaurs, Diamantinasaurus and Wintonotitan, described earlier in this compilation). As far as paleontologists can tell, Rhoetosaurus' closest non-Australian relative was the Asian Shunosaurus, which sheds valuable light on the arrangement of the Earth's continents during the early Mesozoic era.

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Strauss, Bob. "10 Important Dinosaurs That Roamed Across Australia and Antarctica." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/most-important-dinosaurs-of-australia-and-antarctica-1092053. Strauss, Bob. (2021, February 16). 10 Important Dinosaurs That Roamed Across Australia and Antarctica. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/most-important-dinosaurs-of-australia-and-antarctica-1092053 Strauss, Bob. "10 Important Dinosaurs That Roamed Across Australia and Antarctica." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/most-important-dinosaurs-of-australia-and-antarctica-1092053 (accessed April 1, 2023).