Dino wars: Australia's 2-story-tall beast has nothing on Utah

Australotitan cooperensis, nicknamed "Cooper,” is the
largest dinosaur species found in Australia.

Australotitan cooperensis, nicknamed "Cooper,” is the largest dinosaur species found in Australia. (Vlad Konstantinov, Scott Hocknull)



SALT LAKE CITY — Australian researchers are giddy over the confirmation of the largest dinosaur that ever roamed their country, a two-story plant-eating sauropod the length of a basketball court that lived over 98 million years ago.

The fossilized remains were first excavated in 2006-2007, but it has only been recently confirmed that, yes, this was the largest dinosaur that inhabited the land Down Under. Ever.

But a couple of Utah's top paleontologists say, game on.

Australia may have its gargantuan example of titanosaurians — this one nicknamed Cooper for a creek not far from where it was found — but Utah has its Alamo.

More precisely, Alamosaurus. The big beast was unearthed in the 1930s west of Orangeville in Emery County by the Smithsonian Institute, which remains its permanent home.

Mark Loewen said Australia's late cretaceous Cooper was big to be sure. And long. And heavy.

"It was big and massive, but we have those in Utah as well," he pointed out.

Loewen, resident research associate at the Natural History Museum of Utah and an associate professor in the department of geology and geophysics at the University of Utah, said scientists in the Outback don't often come across intact specimens of fossilized remains of dinosaurs.

Scott Hocknull and Robyn Mackenzie with a 3D reconstruction and the fossilized bone of a humerus from
Australotitan cooperensis, the largest dinosaur found in Australia.
Scott Hocknull and Robyn Mackenzie with a 3D reconstruction and the fossilized bone of a humerus from Australotitan cooperensis, the largest dinosaur found in Australia. (Photo: Rochelle Lawrence)

"Australia does not have a lot of really nice dinosaurs like we do here in Utah, and wherever they find one, they find parts of the arms, legs, vertebrae, but not a complete dinosaur," he said. "But it certainly makes the news when they find enough to get a name. That's good."

Added Alan Titus, paleontologist for the Utah Bureau of Land Management: "Utah's been there, done that."

By the time Australia's giant dinosaur was roaming around, Loewen said all the humongous long-necked dinosaurs in North America had been wiped out by predators.

But he emphasized that there was a time that when a healthy adult specimen of a titanosaurian was wandering about that it was pretty much invulnerable.

"When it was a healthy adult, probably nothing could take it down. If they were older and sick, predators could have taken it down. Or it takes a long time to get to that size, so they would have been prey."

So you could throw a dozen Utah Raptors, the state's official dinosaur, at one of these big dinosaurs and it probably would not have mattered. Or even a T-Rex or two.

Eventually, however, the T-Rex evolved to become much bigger, stronger and more cunning in its hunt for lunch. The meat eaters wiped out the long necks in North America.

What did the meat eaters do? Loewen said they had to change up the menu and go after different prey.

Both Loewen and Titus say Australian researchers have much to celebrate with this latest confirmation of a new species.

But Australia is difficult country for dinosaur discoveries.

A skeletal model of a Cryolophosaurus rises above real bones of the dinosaur in the Antarctic Dinosaurs exhibit at the
Natural History Museum of Utah in Salt Lake City on Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. The exhibit guides visitors through what was once a lush, thriving continent and explains how paleontologists carefully
extracted four Antarctic dinosaur species from the now-frozen landscape.
A skeletal model of a Cryolophosaurus rises above real bones of the dinosaur in the Antarctic Dinosaurs exhibit at the Natural History Museum of Utah in Salt Lake City on Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. The exhibit guides visitors through what was once a lush, thriving continent and explains how paleontologists carefully extracted four Antarctic dinosaur species from the now-frozen landscape. (Photo: Steve Griffin, Deseret News)

Loewen said that as an example, Utah has more than 115 confirmed species of dinosaurs while Australia has 22.

Titus said the Australian discovery of that large plant-eating sauropod adds to the collection of knowledge when it comes to dinosaurs, which is a good thing.

But he did point out that if Utah could put a notch on a yardstick as to where the state stands in the world of dinosaur discoveries, Utah would at least be in the top five.

"The Cleveland Lloyd Quarry's claim to fame is that it has the largest accumulation of large meat-eating (dinosaur) bones on the planet," he said, until some other discovery possibly comes along.

There is one other thing that makes Utah stand out globally, according to Titus: It possesses a unique evolutionary history of fossilized remains that tells the dramatic rise and fall of the dinosaur.

"What Utah has that almost nobody else has is the entire story — from the evolution of the dinosaurs in North America all the way up to their extinction," he said. "You can see their rise, their zenith, their extinction in a complete unbroken story. It is really remarkable from that perspective."

Related Stories

Amy Joi O'Donoghue

SIGN UP FOR THE KSL.COM NEWSLETTER

Catch up on the top news and features from KSL.com, sent weekly.
By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to KSL.com's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

KSL Weather Forecast