Friday, 3 August 2012

A trip to the Australian Museum

On our weekly trip to Sydney for socialising and rugby league watching, I managed to sneak in some science! As a child I remember many happy excursions with mum to the Australian Museum. I also did work experience there at 15 years old in the geology department.
I had two reasons for wanting to visit the museum; the new exhibition on the deep oceans & of course, the dinosaur exhibit!
We were a bit constrained by time as we wanted to be at Henson park by 3pm to watch the Newtown Jets play. The Deep Ocean exhibit was interesting, but was designed specifically with children in mind, and there was no shortage of them. As a result it was hard to hear a lot of the audio in the exhibition.
We moved into the hall of skeletons next, which gave me a good opportunity to check out the mammal scapulae and several bird skeletons on display, including a Southern Cassowary.

Southern Cassowary
Keen to get to the dinosaurs we headed up to level two and discovered an exhibition on 'dangerous Australians' which was excellent. Apart from preserved specimens of irukanji jellyfish and other dangerous sea creatures there were also some live animals, a blue tongue lizard, carpet python and fresh water crocs. Adjacent to this exhibit is one on Australian Megafauna. This has preserved bones and very well done reproduction models of thylacoleo, a thylacine and diprotodon. Past this we reached a hall of dinosaurs.

Afrovenator at the entrance to the Dinosaur hall

There are a good number of mounted Dinosaur skeletons in the hall, as well as numerous fossils and replicas of fossilised specimens. I could have spent hours here, but as I mentioned we were hurrying and to top it off I had left my phone in the car so the images here were all snapped by my immeasurably patient and obliging husband.
There were a couple of highlights of this exhibition, the first being a replica skeleton of Muttaburrasaurus. 


Muttaburrasaurus was discovered near Muttaburra, Qld in 1963. It lived in the Cretaceous period and has teeth similar to a Ceratopsian (e.g. Triceratops), which suggests it ate tough vegetation. For more information on Muttaburrasaurus see its wiki page here.

Next was a display on carnivorous Dinosaurs including an impressive skeleton cast of Giganotosaurus.


The discovery of Giganotosaurus occurred in 1995 and at the time toppled T Rex from the top spot as the largest carnivorous Dinosaur. The name means 'giant southern lizard' and was found in Argentina. Giganotosaurus lived in the late Cretaceous. For more on Giganotosaurus check its wiki page found here.

Another massive herbivore on display is Jobaria, this is the large Sauropod (lizard foot) seen next to Afrovenator above the 'Dinosaur' sign at the entrance of the hall. Both species were found in Niger and are known to have interacted. 

Afrovenator on left, Jobaria on right

Jobaria was discovered in the Sahara Desert in 1997. Examination of the fossilised bones indicates that Jobaria could have reared up on its hind legs (as seen above) just as easily, or perhaps more easily, than modern Elephants. It was first suggested that the sediment it was found in was early Cretaceous, however, further study put forward that they were, in fact, mid Jurassic.

There is also a whole section devoted to the comparative anatomy of Therapod (beast foot) Dinosaurs and birds. This shows how closely the anatomy of dino-birds, such as Archaeopteryx, is to modern birds.

Pheasant Coucal above, Archaeopteryx below
This is a lovely comparison of the skeletons of the Pheasant Coucal (see my tropical bird post for a complete picture of the Pheasant Coucal) and Archaeopteryx. The most obvious differences are beak/teeth, no tail/bony tail. Current thought is that birds developed from a group of Dinosaurs known as Dromeosaurs (which means running lizard). They are often called 'raptors' and indeed Velociraptor, who became well known due to the movie Jurassic Park, was a Dromeosaur. Another famous Dromeosaur is Deinonychus, (it is a Deinonychus claw that Sam Neill scares the children with at the beginning of Jurassic Park). They were fast, well armed, agile and often feathered. Which leads me to the beautiful paleoartistic model of Caudipteryx.

Caudipteryx model with fossil shown above
Caudipteryx (meaning tail feather) dates from the Aptian (early Cretaceous) and was found in Liaoning Province of North China in 1997. It is about the size of a peacock and probably couldn't fly. The downy feathers on the body were more likely used for insulation and display. More on Caudipteryx on wiki here. If you have a good look at the leg of Caudipteryx, Giganotosaurus and the Cassowary in the images in this post you will see that  they are incredibly similar. I have been doing some sketches of skeletons of Therapods and Ratites (flightless birds such as Emu, Cassowary and the extinct Moa). After sketching the hind limb of Allosaurus, I was going to put a sketch of the Moa hind limb next to it for comparison. They look so similar that I ended up deciding it would be pointless! I will put a more detailed post on the skeletal evolution from Therapod to modern bird in the not too distant future.

I can highly recommend a visit to the Australian Museum if you are interested in Dinosaurs, or Megafauna or Dangerous Australian animals. A link to the Dinosaur exhibit guide can be found here. I hope to visit again soon, when I have more time for taking notes and pictures!

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