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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Linking Australia's Burrunjor to Known Dinosaurs

One of the most interesting aspects of cryptozoology is the prospect of surviving dinosaurs. Australia is said to be home to one of these creatures, which is known as the burrunjor. But could it really be there? While it could be possible, it would probably seem very unlikely to most that a dinosaur that size could be hiding in Australia. That, and the fact that it would have to have survived there for tens or hundreds of millions of years.
Burrunjor compared to a human. But is it really that big?
(Cryptid Wiki/Connor Lachmanec)

The burrunjor is said to be a theropod dinosaur similar in appearance to something t-rex-esque, usually said to be around 20-30 feet long. Some say it can be 20 feet in height as well, though I doubt that if it is 20-ish feet long. But are there any known, prehistoric dinosaurs that fit its description from Australia? The answer - yes.

AUSTRALOVENATOR

Australovenator is the first of Australia's dinosarus we will look at. It lived during the mid-cretaceous period (about 95 mya) and was a member of the megaraptora family of dinosaurs. These were large theropods that are very mysterious. Some scientists think megaraptora are related to the spinosaurs, while others think they are more closely related to tyrannosaurs, or the allosaurs or charcharodontosaurs.
What Australovenator may have looked like
in life

Australovenator's remains were first described in 2009, by Scott Hocknull and his colleagues. So far, only one specimen is known from leg, arm, jaw, and rib bones. Hocknull guesses that Australovenator was about 6 1/2 feet tall, and about 20 feet long and weighed 1,000 to 2,000 pounds. He called it "the cheetah of its time."

Australovenator had long arms with large claws, and is quite similar in description to the burrunjor.



RAPATOR

Rapator is the second Australian dinosaur to take a look at. Its remains were found in New South Wales and it is currently known from a single finger bone. That bone, however, is quite similar to finger bones of Australovenator and some think the two may actually be the same species. If they aren't the same species, they are both megaraptorian theropods. However, since only one bone of Rapator is known it is not possible to be certain if the two are the same.

Rapator is estimated to be in the same size range as Australovenator, at around 30 feet in length. Again, the corresponds with burrunjor size estimates.

Estimated size of Rapator compared to a human
(Prehistoric Wildlife)
"LIGHTNING CLAW"

A third theropod dinosaur from Australia has been nicknamed "lightning claw" due to the fact that it was discovered near the town of Lightning Ridge, in New South Wales.

Sci News published an article about "lightning claw" in 2015:

 "A remarkable new species of theropod dinosaur has been unearthed in an underground mine in north-central New South Wales, Australia.
"Nicknamed Lightning Claw, the new dinosaur lived roughly 110 million years ago during  the Early Cretaceous period.
"It belongs to a group of large carnivorous theropod dinosaurs called Megaraptora (megaraptorid theropods).
"The species grew up to 20 feet (6 m) in length. It is the largest and only the second theropod dinosaur in Australia known from more than a single bone.
"The partial skeleton, including a foot bone, parts of the hip, ribs, forearm, and a giant clae from the hand, was discovered by miners Rob and Debbie Brogan in an underground mine at the Carter's Rush opal field, 18.6 miles (30 km) southwest of the town of Lightning Ridge, north-central New South Wales.
"It was analyzed by a team of paleontologists from Australia and Italy, led by Dr Phil Bell of the University of New England.
"'Some of the bones were recognized and manually removed by miners and eventually donated to the Australian Opal Centre in 2005,' Dr Bell and co-authors wrote in a paper published in the journal Gondwanna Research. 
"'An unknown number of bones were not recognized and presumably destroyed prior to or during excavation of what was almost certainly a  more complete skeleton that is currently represented.'
"Dr Bell said: 'I immediately recognized this fossil was something new. When I compared it to other Australian and South American dinosaurs, it was clear it was a megaraptorid which is [a] relatively rare group of dinosaurs, mostly known from Argentina.'
"The hand claw of the dinosaur would have been 10 inches (25 cm) in length and would have been used like a grappling hook to catch its prey.
"'What is fascinating about this discovery is it changes the popular notion that Australian dinosaurs came from ancestors derived from Africa and South America - instead the Lightning Claw appears to be the ancestor of all megaraptorids, meaning this group appeared first in Australia,' Dr Bell said.
"'This specimen provides new evidence that Australia played an active role in the evolution and radiation of at least one group of apex theropods. Significantly, the Australian origin of megaraptorid theropods is echoed by eusuchian crocodylomorphs wherein Isisfordia duncani from the earliest latest Lower Cretaceous of Queensland suggests the origin of this clade also has an Australian root,' the scientists said."
Illustration of what "Lightning Claw"
may have looked like in life
(Julius Csotonyi)

Again we have a megaraptorid theropod that grew to around 20 feet in length.

IS BURRUNJOR A MEGARAPTORID?

The descriptions of Australovenator, Rapator, and the Lighning Claw are all quite similar to reports of the burrunjor in modern times. Is it possible that it could be a surviving member of one of these species, or at least a type of megaraptorid dinosaur? If it is there at all, it could very well be. But, of course, that's if it is there. And, if it is real, and a dinosaur, possibly a megaraptorid of the same species or related to any of the three examined here, it wouldn't necessarily be the same as it was millions of years ago. As Karl Shuker notes in his book Still in Search of Prehistoric Survivors, any potential prehistoric survivor (not necessarily dinosaurs) wouldn't be the exact same as it was when it was known to be alive, because there would be thousands if not millions of years of evolution between the time it was thought to have gone extinct and the present day.

And this also doesn't necessarily mean that the burrunjor and other potential prehistoric survivors have survived to the present day - they could have just survived longer than they were thought to, but are now extinct today.

Either way, if the burrunjor is or was a real creature and a prehistoric survivor, I find it likely that it could be a megaraptorid theropod, since the descriptions of the known megaraptorids from Australia seem to closely match its description.

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