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Savannasaurus ("savannah lizard") is a genus of titanosaur sauropod from the Late Cretaceous period of Australia. The only known specimen of this dinosaur is nicknamed "Wade". It was originally discovered in 2005, but was only described in 2016.

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Image 4303 1e-Savannasaurus-elliottorum

Savannasaurus elliottorum. Image credit: Travis R. Tischler.

The Savannasaurus skeleton is one of the most complete sauropods to be discovered in Australia. Based on its skeleton, it was probably about 50 feet long, with a long neck and a wide, round body — weighing in at 40,000 pounds, as much as three African elephants combined, Poropat says. It's sacrum and the fused ischium- pubis complex are both over one metre in width at their narrowest points. The researchers haven’t found any fossilized dung or teeth to determine what Savannasaurus ate, but it likely grew to that size on a low-quality vegetarian diet. That might be why the dinosaur was so wide across the middle: it needed a really long gut to extract the nutrients from its fibrous food.  Savannasaurus lived in Australia 95 million to 98 million years ago alongside two other titanosaurs. That places it squarely in the late Cretaceous, the last portion of the age of dinosaurs that started about 225 million years ago and ended when an asteroid careened into the Earth some 66 million years ago, driving the massive animals extinct.

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David Elliott holding the toe of Savannasaurus elliottorum which he discovered in 2005 *(photo courtesy Stephen Poropat and Australian Age of Dinosaurs)

We don’t know how these dinosaurs spread to Australia, but during this time period, Australia was connected to South America by Antarctica. Because there aren’t any sauropod bones on Australia that are more than 105 million years old, the authors of the study suspect that the dinosaurs may have traveled there from South America via Antarctica during a warming period. It’s also possible that sauropods were there, but their bones didn’t survive long enough to be found.

"We've really only scratched the surface as to what's there. It’s been bandied about whether or not this is a bias in the fossil record," Poropat says. "But given the thousands of fossils that have come out of these sediments, to not even have a single tooth of a sauropod, or a limb bone, or anything like that seems quite strange."

In the same paper, Poropat and his colleagues also published their discovery of a skull belonging to another Australian titanosaur, Diamantinasaurus matildae.

This species was discovered in 2009, but finding the first Diamantinasaurus skull is an especially big deal because it meant the scientists could use it to place Diamantinasaurus more accurately on the dinosaur family tree. Right now, Poropat and his colleagues suspect that Savannasaurus and Diamantinasaurus were probably most closely related to each other than any other species. While the researchers convinced that the two are distinct species enough to name Savannasaurus, the paleontologists will need to find more specimens to be sure.

"Anytime you put a name on a dinosaur it’s a hypothesis — and it’s one that’s going to be tested and tested in the future, and we are hoping of course that Savannasaurus will stand the test of time," Poropat says. "One of the most exciting things about this discovery — and others that have come from Australia in recent years — is we’ve really only scratched the surface as to what’s there," Lamanna says. "There are entire lost worlds of dinosaurs waiting to be found in Australia."

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