A team of fossil hunters has discovered that one of the largest known dinosaurs, a titanosaurid, almost certainly roamed New Zealand about 80 million years ago.
A vertebra bone discovered in a stream bed in Hawke’s Bay in 1999 has only recently been formally identified by a dinosaur expert at the Queensland Museum in Australia as coming from the giant plant-eating sauropod group known as the Titanosauroidea. This is the first evidence that titanosaurids once lived in New Zealand.
Titanosaurids, named after the early deities of Ancient Greece, the Titans, were widespread, especially in the southern continents including Australia, where fossils have been found in Queensland.
The dinosaurs lived during the Cretaceous period, between 83 and 65 million years ago. Although no complete skulls have ever been found, scientists believe they had small heads with very small, slender teeth, a long neck and tail, and a large body. They grew up to 45 metres in length and weighed up to 50 tonnes.
The fossil is being held at the National Paleontology Collection at GNS Science in Lower Hutt. GNS Science palaeontologist Hamish Campbell said the find was particularly significant because it added to the knowledge of ancient New Zealand.
“It shows that New Zealand had the full range of dinosaurs. The titanosaurid would have lived several million years after Zealandia (the New Zealand continent) split away from Gondwanaland,” says Dr Campbell.
At this time, New Zealand was covered in lush rainforest and was a much larger land area than today – almost half the size of Australia. It is thought that dinosaurs became extinct some 65 million years ago when a meteorite slammed into the Earth.
Hub resources on dinosaurs
Find out how to date a dinosaur and read more about dinosaurs in New Zealand in this article, Ancient dinosaur footprints discovered near Nelson.