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Giant terror that stalked the Outback

SCIENTISTS have confirmed for the first time that Australia was once home to a dinosaur that was big, fast and terrifying, and they've named it like something from an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. Meet the Australovenator.

The beast was a 500-kilogram meat-eating predator with three slashing claws on each of its forelimbs that stalked the Outback 98 million years ago, researchers said in a report published yesterday.

Fossilized remnants of its limb bones, ribs, jaw and fangs have been found -- along with bones of two other new species of gigantic, long-necked herbivores weighing up to 22 tons -- in Queensland state over the past three years.

The discovery, analyzed in a report published in online science journal PLoS ONE, was the first substantial find of large dinosaurs in Australia to be revealed in 28 years.

Paleontologists have described Australia as new frontier in vertebrate paleontology and an untapped resource in the world's understanding of the dinosaur age because so few fossils have been found there.

This is largely because the relatively flat continent has long been geologically stable. The movement of tectonic plates in other continents has forced layers of rock bearing fossils tens of millions of years old to the surfaces making them easier to find.

In the latest Queensland find, paleontologists bulldozed top soil more than a meter deep to expose the sandy clay that held the fossils.

The finders nicknamed the 5-meter long carnivore, Australovenator wintonensis, "Banjo" after the poet A.B. "Banjo" Paterson who in 1885 penned Australia's unofficial anthem "Waltzing Matilda" on a sheep ranch near Winton -- a cattle town that lies closest to where the dinosaur bones were found. Banjo's Latin name means "Winton's Southern Hunter."

"The cheetah of his time, Banjo was light and agile," the report's lead author, Scott Hocknull, a Queensland Museum paleontologist, said.

"He's Australia's answer to Velociraptor, but many times bigger and more terrifying," Hocknull added, referring to the prehistoric predators recreated with artistic license in the "Jurassic Park" movies.

The other two finds -- 16-meter-long herbivores -- were previously unknown types of titanosaur, the largest dinosaurs that ever lived.

"The jewel in the crown for us is Banjo because it's the most complete meat-eating dinosaur ever found in Australia," Hocknull said. "All the carnivorous dinosaurs we've had in the past were only known from a single bone or tooth."


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