Muttaburrasaurus: the dinki-di dinosaur
Paul Willis, Technical Adviser to Dinosaurs at Large
With a name like Muttaburrasaurus, this has to be an Australian dinosaur! Of all the wonderful names of Australian country towns, it seems most fitting that one of Australia’s
dinosaurs has received one of the most poetically Australian names of all (no offence to people in Dubbo, but a Dubbosaurus simply wouldn’t have had the same lyrical ring to it). Like a few other dinosaurs, Muttaburrasaurus was christened after the nearest town, Muttaburra on the banks of the Thompson River in central Queensland.
The finding of the first specimen of Muttaburrasaurus also has a traditionally Australian origin. Who would be more appropriate to find the best Australian dinosaur specimen of its
time than an outback stockman. Doug Langdon was a long-time resident of Muttaburra and, among various jobs, he had once worked as a butcher. While mustering cattle alongside the
Thompson River, just to the south of the town, he was struck by the resemblance of a piece of rock to the shoulder blade of a sheep, only much bigger. He was intrigued enough to notify the Queensland Museum and, in 1963, Dr Alan Bartholomai and Dr Edward Dahms visited the site. They quickly realised that they had the remains of a dinosaur and set about collecting it.
Unfortunately, the area had been used as a cattle mustering yard for more than a century and the specimen and been kicked to pieces. Further, the local residents had long known about the bones and had been collecting them as curiosities. After an appeal through the local press, many pieces were passed over to the Queensland Museum and, eventually, they were able to take 40% of the original skeleton back to Brisbane. Although 40% of a skeleton may not
sound like much, this specimen represented the most complete dinosaur specimen from Australia until the find of an almost complete skeleton in 1990.
The dinosaur from Muttaburra remained in storage at the Queensland Museum for almost 20 years before it could be properly studied. In 1981 Dr Bartholomai and Dr Ralph Molnar
named the animal Muttaburrasaurus langdoni after the town where it was found and the man who first found it. Other specimens of Muttaburrasaurus have since been found from throughout central Queensland including partial skeletons and complete skulls.
Muttaburrasaurus is very similar to Iguanodon, a dinosaur known from many complete skeletons found in Europe and North America. When it came time to reconstruct a complete specimen of Muttaburrasaurus, the missing portions were modelled from the parts of Iguanodon. Copies of the completed skeleton of Muttaburrasaurus can be seen in most major museums around the country.
Muttaburrasaurus had an overall length of seven metres. It was a plant-eater that roamed Queensland 110 million years ago. Like other dinosaurs of its kind, it could walk on all four limbs or rise up on its back legs to make a quick escape. On the hand of Muttaburrasaurus was a large spike-like thumb that the animal could have used as a defensive dagger if it was attacked. If Muttaburrasaurus is anything like its overseas relatives, it probably moved around in huge herds and nested in enormous communal rookeries.
There are, no doubt, many other specimens of Muttaburrasaurus roasting under the central Queensland sun even as you read this article. With time and effort, we will find these
specimens and, hopefully learn more about this ancient Australian.