Meet 'Cooper,' a Recently Discovered Sauropod Believed to Be Australia’s Largest Dinosaur Species

An illustration of what Australotitan cooperensis may have looked like.
An illustration of what Australotitan cooperensis may have looked like. / Vlad Konstantinov/Scott Hocknull/Eromanga Natural History Museum

If you’re a dinosaur aficionado, finding out about the discovery of a new species of sauropod probably makes you think something like “Wow, I wonder how big it was.” Along with their herbivorous diets and long necks, sauropods have a reputation for being impressively huge.

This latest one, whose fossils were discovered near Cooper Creek in Queensland, Australia, does not disappoint. Aptly named Australotitan cooperensis—or just “Cooper” for short—the prehistoric creature is thought to have been as long as a basketball court and two stories tall. It may have tipped the scales at approximately 70 tons, which is roughly half as heavy as the Statue of Liberty (without the base).

Cooper overseeing his excavation.
Cooper overseeing his excavation. / Vlad Konstantinov/Eromanga Natural History Museum

Fossils from a few other species of titanosaurian sauropods have been unearthed in Australia, but Cooper is the largest yet—on par with species found in South America. As Matt Lamanna, a paleontologist at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Natural History, explained to The New York Times, its existence is evidence that Australia’s dinosaurs from the Cretaceous period were just as large as those in other parts of the world.

To compare Australotitan cooperensis to its far-flung relatives, researchers from the Queensland Museum and the Eromanga Natural History Museum developed 3D scans of the bones. “The 3D scans we created allowed me to carry around thousands of kilos [of] dinosaur bones in a 7-kilogram laptop. Better yet, we can now share these scans and knowledge online with the world,” Scott Hocknull, co-author of the study published in the journal PeerJ, said in a press release.

Scott Hocknull and Robyn Mackenzie posing with a replica of Cooper's humerus.
Scott Hocknull and Robyn Mackenzie posing with a replica of Cooper's humerus. / Rochelle Lawrence/Eromanga Natural History Museum

The work also wouldn’t have been possible without Robyn and Stuart Mackenzie, who discovered the fossils on their farm in Eromanga, Queensland, in 2006. It wasn’t their first run-in with a dinosaur bone—their son, Sandy, had unearthed one two years earlier. With the help of their community, the Mackenzies established the Eromanga Natural History Museum so the fossils (and future fossils) could remain local. Because fossils in Australia are often spotted on private farms, grassroots involvement in discovery and excavation is vital to furthering our understanding of Australia’s prehistoric wildlife, Hocknull said. For researchers, community-founded institutions like the Mackenzies’ museum are especially important.

“Without them, none of these fossils would be found, none of them would be excavated, none of them would be prepared and none of them would be scientifically available,” Hocknull told The New York Times.

[h/t The New York Times]