Meet Savannasaurus a species of sauropod dinosaur and the palaeontologist who named it, Stephen Poropat! Found by the team at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs, Adele chats with Steve about Australian sauropods and the titanosaur family tree.
Adele: Today on the show we are ending Season 1 with a bang! With a full-on interview with sauropod specialist, Dr. Steven Poropat. There's tons of information about sauropod species from across the globe. Plus info on Savannasaurus elliottorum, the sauropod Steve named in 2016. This is going to be different, but I think you're gonna like it. Pals in Palaeo presents Savannasaurus with Steve Poropat.
Adele: Pals in Palaeo acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to elder's past, present and emerging and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today. This episode was recorded on Koa Country in Winton, central-western Queensland, and the holotype and only known specimen of Savannasaurus elliottorum was also found on Koa Country.
Adele: This is Pals in Palaeo, your favorite fossil podcast, where we talk to the experts on ancient organisms and uncover the past. I'm your host palaeontologist, PhD students and wannabe sauropod expert Adele Pentland. To find out what's happening with the show, see cool photos of fossils and more, you can follow us on Instagram @palsinpalaeo.
Adele: Today's episode is going to be pretty different compared to previous episodes. We're still gonna talk about the form, function and family groupings of a fossil, but I'll be doing it with the help of Dr. Steve Poropat. This is the first full length feature interview and I'm bloody excited. Of course, I'm incredibly grateful to all the guests that have been on Pals in Palaeo so far, and I guests lined up for future episodes. But before I had really figured out what the show was going to be like, Steve was happy to chat with me as the first proverbial lemming off the cliff.
Adele: I'm so lucky to have him as my mentor and supervisor. I literally wouldn't be half the palaeontologist I am today without his wisdom and insight, and I'm so excited to finally share some of that with you on today's episode. I've been Steve's student officially since the end of 2017 (since I study part time), but because we've known each other so long, I didn't do a pronoun check at the start of the interview, but Steve uses he/him pronouns. Before we hear from Steve and hear about Savannasaurus, it's Random Fossil Fact time. Consider this the trailer before the lights dim in the theater and the movie begins. I was really torn on what direction to take today's Random Fossil Fact, since most of the time, it's completely out of left field. But I don't know, I think it's sometimes nice to tie it in with the main topic.
Adele: Since we'll soon be knee-deep in sauropod facts, I decided to stay on theme and want to talk about embryonic sauropod fossils in their eggs.
Adele: As far as fossils go, these are as rare as hen's teeth. Fossil eggs and nesting sites are known from some spots, but generally speaking, they're very rare. If you've ever accidentally cracked an egg, you can only imagine how difficult it is to bury an egg quickly with sediment, without completely destroying it in the process. But it does happen. Even rarer still is the discovery of delicate bones still preserved within that egg, because it means two things. One, that egg was fertilised, and two, that embryo was in a late stage of development and those tiny bones had actually been reinforced with calcium.
Adele: I want to zoom in on two papers specifically, both describing tiny sauropod embryos in ovo from the upper Cretaceous of Patagonia in Argentina. These incredible fossils are from types of titanosaurs, which is a group of sauropods, made famous by Patagotitan, which is the biggest dinosaur discovered to date.
Adele: The most recent paper was published in 2020 and authored by Martin Kundrát and colleagues in the scientific journal Current Biology. You might remember it, they described one of the most complete Titanosaur embryos to date, with a bump on the end of its nose. There were a lot of headlines hyping this find up and saying a baby sauropod had been found with a rhino like horn.
Adele: Before I forget that 2020 paper is published in open-access, so anyone can read it and I'll put a link to it in the show notes. The graphical abstract made me laugh out loud. It's so funny.
Adele: A graphical abstract, by the way is a graphic with a few words that explains what the gist of the paper is, and there's this beautiful, 3D baby sauropod skull, but there's also these unnerving floating googly eyes? Like, I 100% understand why they did it, and it helps, but it's just so goofy looking. Anyway, I'll let you be the judge of that, like I said, that paper is online and free. They've also got a 3D model of that skull, which is worth checking out, it's gorgeous. Getting back to the actual science of this paper. Modern day birds are often born with what's called an egg-tooth, or an extra bump on the end of their beak, which they used to hatch. What happens is that the little chick or I guess, in this case, the dinosaur, begins to break the egg from the inside, and they need to do a full 360 in that egg and crack a ring around the egg to then hatch. Now, unfortunately, not all chicks hatch successfully. Sometimes if the humidity isn't right, and the egg dries out a bit during development, the embryo can get stuck to the membrane between it and the hard eggshell, and they can't complete their 360 spin and they don't make it. For those that do make it, that egg to sticks around for a few days, but eventually falls off. And it's no big deal since their beaks are made out of keratin anyway, which is what our fingernails and out hair is made up of. So it doesn't hurt them, and to be honest, I don't think they realise when the egg tooth falls off. While some dinosaurs had beaks, titanosaurs didn't. So they have a similar solution to the same problem. But they've actually modified the shape of the skull, instead of evolving a separate structure. I mentioned earlier that there are two papers on this. There was an earlier paper published in 2007, in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology as a short communication by Rodolfo García, who described the same bony bump on the end of the premaxilla in multiple specimens.
Adele: I just want to highlight both, since the paper published by García isn't in open-access, but it's still an important contribution and reminder that we stand on the shoulders of giants and our work builds on what others have discovered before us. Speaking of giants, we've heard about dinosaur embryos, unhatched and in eggs, but let's talk now about titanosaurs in Australia, specifically, a very special sauropod, Savannasaurus elliottorum.
Adele: This conversation was recorded after a full day on site during a dinosaur dig in August last year. That is how long I've been sitting on this. But Steve, never, not once made a fuss over it.
Adele: If the audio sounds kind of janky, we were sitting in the work ute, we'd already cracked a couple of beers and the laptop and microphone were perched precariously on the center console sitting between us. Even though I was physically sitting in the driver's seat. Honestly, I was just a passenger and along for the ride, soaking up as much sauropod information as I could.
Adele: Also, sorry, not sorry, there's several Simpsons quotes throughout this episode (see if you can spot them all). That's just how it is when the two of us get talking.
Adele: Now, I know a little bit about sauropods, through helping Steve with his research, as well as his now finished master students, Samantha Rigby, but they both know a lot more about this group than I do.
Adele: Before we get into the interview, let's talk a bit about what a sauropod dinosaur is. You'll find them next to the green T Rex emoji. Okay, moving on. Nah, I'm just kidding. Steve would actually kill me if I didn't go into more detail and do these dinosaurs justice.
Adele: There are over 300 species of sauropods. I say later on in the interview over 200, but I double checked this, and it is in fact closer to 300. This group is iconic as it includes the largest land animals to ever exist. I make the distinction of land animals because whales? Whales. I feel like whales have an unfair advantage, almost verging on cheating though, because they're in the water. Can't wait to have that comment, come back and bite me in the butt later when I speak to a whale palaeontologist, but that's a problem for future Adele.
Adele: Getting back to sauropods though, while there is a range in size, sauropods are known for being big and they also have a pretty distinct body shape: long necks, long tails, small heads, big barrel shaped bodies, and four legs built like columns.
Adele: Some mix it up a little bit and do funky things with their bodies. Like the neck and back of Amargasaurus from the Early Cretaceous of Argentina. Others have osteoderms, which are bony plates more common in ankylosaurs, the small armoured dinosaurs and crocodiles, but other than that sore pots up pretty consistent and pretty recognisable. As in, you're probably not going to confuse them for another type of dinosaur.
Adele: If you're still unfamiliar with what a sauropod looks like, then I'm sorry, I've completely failed you, but have a look at the sauropod in the cover art for the podcast. It's gorgeous and was created just for us by Crumpet Clubhouse, specifically, the very talented Jenny Zhao. I'll put links to their socials in the show notes. But now that we're all on the same page, let's go back in time to August 2022. And talk sauropods with Steve Poropat.
Adele: Today on the show, we have a really special guest. It's gonna be like a really fun informal chat, because I have with me, my PhD supervisor, my friend, my mentor, Dr. Steven Poropat.
Steve: Hi, how's it going?
Adele: Yeah good. Um, I have accosted you. We are sitting in the middle of a car... well, we're sitting in a car and we're in the middle of a dinosaur dig. It's pretty special, though, because we happen to be on Belmont Station and I will get you to talk a little bit about a special sauropod that was found here. But before we get into the Form and the Function of Savannasaurus elliottorum, I should probably like, delve into where you're based, like what your affiliations are and all that good stuff.
Steve: So yeah, I'm currently at Curtin, but I have worked at other unis before. I did my PhD at Monash University in Melbourne. I then did a postdoc in Sweden at Uppsala University, and had a postdoc back in Melbourne at Swinburne University of Technology as well.
Adele: Yeah, and throughout this time, I should also mention that we're both research associates with the Australian Age of Dinosaurs.
Adele: And that's who is running the dig that we're on at the moment.
Steve: That's it. Yeah, I've been coming out on these digs since 2011. So 12 years now. Feels like a lifetime ago the first one. And yeah, every dig has been different. Every dig has had its ups and downs. We've been on the up for 5, 6 consecutive years I can only hope we continue.
Adele: Yeah, well, and most digs produce sauropods, which is sort of what I've come to know you as the expert in, essentially. But in saying that, you know, you're obviously supervising me and I work on pterosaurs, you supervise people working on Cretaceous age Crocs and ornithopods, and Jake, who's doing theropod stuff now, who I'd love to have on the show as well.
Steve: Even someone working on Cretaceous dragonflies of all things, so yeah, I'm just interested in palaeontology sort of generally. I just happen to have had a passion for dinosaurs, and in particular sauropods, and I've had the good fortune and the privilege to work on sauropod dinosaurs a lot.
Steve: Whereas, you know, I know that there are other people who are really passionate about dinosaurs, who might have to work on other groups, just because of the lack of available material or people to supervise them or whatever. Yeah, so yeah, a combination of good fortune and, and, yeah, opportunity.
Adele: So when you say, a sauropod so for people who aren't super experts in dinosaurs, we're talking like, long neck, long tail, Littlefoot from Land Before Time.
Steve: Oh, yes.
Adele: What other pop culture references can we weave in?
Steve: Oh look, I mean, if you go for an older generation, you've got Monty Python with the Anne Elk sketch where she's got a theory about the Brontosaurus, where it's thin at one end, much, much thicker in the middle, and thin again at the other end, but um, I look, I guess, they appear in all the Jurassic Park movies in one form or another. They're in Walking with Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Planet.
Adele: And they're the largest land animals to have walked on the Earth. They're probably included in those media, I guess, for that reason.
Steve: Pretty much. Yeah. I mean, in some ways, they're the ones that are going to inspire the most awe in any museum display, possibly with the exception of something like T Rex or more with a really big theropod dinosaurs. Yeah, sauropods are just off the scale in terms of how long and tall they are, in particular, but also they were the heaviest land animals ever to exist. Or at least, some of them were.
Steve: And yeah, I guess, because they have been known, or their approximate body shape has been known since the 1880s. They really have penetrated the public eye. They're, you know, widely known. People think of a dinosaur and they don't think of, you know, they often would think of just a sauropod, a generic sauropod long neck, long tail, as you said, because yeah, they're just iconic, they are not like anything else that's ever existed before or since. Because yeah, a few things got their big, and few things extended their necks as far out from their bodies, unless they didn't extend their tail so much like elasmosaurs or tanystrophids. They got long necks, but short term,
Adele: I mean, elasmosaurs as well. They are in the water, so there's like different physics applying to them and all kinds of that good stuff.
Steve: Definitely. Yes.
Adele: So, do I like expose you as someone who actually worked on ostracods for a little while? Or do we not talk about it?
Steve: You can. Yeah. Like, I don't have any shame about my crustacean past.
Adele: Really? Because it's not listed on your website.
Steve: Probably should be, shouldn't it, although the publications are. Look, if it's Dr. Zoidberg! Yeah, he's a Decapod. I guess so. Yeah, and Sebastian from Little Mermaid, like, yeah, crustaceans are cool.
Adele: But you were, that like a dinosaur obsessed kid.
Steve: I was.
Adele: Like my favorite detail that you've revealed, was when you brought was it a toy dinosaur to? Oh, my God, I'm blanking on what it's called. Christmas? No. The nativity?
Steve: Yeah, the nativity. Yeah, look, the dinosaurs wanted to visit Jesus too.
Adele: Yeah, apparently!
Steve: All the animals were crowded around the major. So yeah, no, Apatosaurus had to be there as well. No, but yeah, but look, I just, I just loved dinosaurs when I was a kid. It's what got me into Palaeontology is what got me interested in natural history more broadly. But yeah, when I was looking for PhDs, I was also thinking sort of longer term prospects and how you could actually be employed as a palaeontologist. Because I was basically told that vertebrate palaeontology, not just dinosaur palaeontology, but working with vertebrates at all, was a tough gig.
Adele: It still is.
Steve: Oh absolutely it is. And you have to be persistent and sort of willing to put up, with a lot of rubbish along the way, if you're actually going to be able to get into it.
Adele: Yeah, persistent, but also, like, best of the best a lot of the time to, like, it is a highly competitive field, I'm not gonna sugarcoat it.
Steve: It is, I don't count myself among the best at all, because I look at, you know, what I've done, it's a bit limited compared to palaeontologists from my generation, because they're doing like bigger data studies and all that sort of stuff. I'm, I would, though, proudly say that, you know, I like doing detailed anatomical work, I like working out what an animal, you know, how an animal is put together. And what makes it similar or different to other closely related animals. So, you know, I don't take any shame in having done a lot of that sort of detailed, finicky work that maybe a lot of people are going to read, cover to cover, and they're not going to necessarily, you know, derive great joy from reading it, but the information is there. And I think that there's real value in descriptive work and taxonomic and phylogenetic work and that sort of thing. But yeah, definitely got my start in ostracods because that was the project available to me, it seemed to be a pathway into being paid as a professional palaeontologist. Because working with microfossils has hydrocarbon exploration applications. So if you work on fossil foraminifera, or fossil ostracods...
Adele: So we should probably back up. What's a foram?
Steve: A fossil plankton. So they basically make the make a test or a shell around themselves. And then when they die, they leave that shell to sink to the bottom of the ocean. To the point where, today, there is actually, you know, it's not a rock yet, but it's on the way up on the deep sea, there's what's called the Globigerina Ooze, which is foram tests.
Adele: Yeah, so Globigerina is like a particular genus?
Steve: It is, yeah.
Adele: Okay, cool. So yeah, that's obviously super useful for like oil and gas exploration, because I think it's principle of an index muscle. So something that is widespread, but also very, like unique and diagnostic for a particular time period.
Steve: And also, the particularly with, with the foraminifera that live in the water column, rather than on the bottom of the sea, the planktic foraminifera, they are worlds worldwide. So you find their remains in rocks anywhere in the world. And you can correlate those rocks across continents or across whole ocean basins. So foraminifera have huge application in dating rocks indirectly. And I mean, we're, you know, it's all relative, biostratigraphy, so using index fossils, because you're not getting absolute ages, unless you do some kind of radio isotope dating on those sediments as well. You just basically know right? If I find Globigerina, right...
Adele: yeah, it's like, this is relatively older than this. It's not like exactly going this is 96 million years old.
Steve: Bring it from casual or technical to back to casual though, there's lingering aspects of the wall, the whole relative dating still in in vernacular: Tertiary and Quaternary, 3rd and 4th. The Paleozoic used to be the primary, the Mesozoic used to be the secondary. So you know, it's still there. It's all relative.
Steve: Yeah. And that's still useful for oil companies, because they can drill, they can get a micro palaeontologists to look at the samples and then go right out: "we're in such and such a layer, we need to go deeper, if we're going to get the reservoir or the cap", or whatever on the oil deposit. And, um, yeah, so but the thing is, once I did the PhD, I was like, I'm done. I don't want to work in the hydrocarbon industry at all. I would much rather actually follow my passion, not spend my year, my days looking down a microscope and actually go hunting for fossils, digging for digging for them. And working on fossils in museums as well.
Adele: Speaking of digging for fossils, we had a pretty good day today.
Steve: We did laughing
Adele: It just so happens that, like, it was a bit of a fluke, really. So we started opening up a new dinosaur site, and there's only so much you can do when you're watching someone else on a machine, sort of, remove rock layer by rock layer, exposing hopefully where our bones are going to be, and like where our fossil layer is. I went for a wander, trying to find new sites. You also went for a wander. You found the first dinosaur site, and I was like, damn. And then I happened to find one as well. Like, it wasn't even that far away like...
Steve: Couple of 100 meters, tops.
Adele: Oh, and I was like, 30 meters away.
Steve: Yeah, not far away. Hard to judge distances out here because it's so flat and there's no landmarks. But yeah no, that was amazing. Yeah, I just saw you're going for a wander and thought, "Yeah I'll do the same". Sure enough, yeah. I'd never found a dinosaur site in Queensland before, which was a pretty good feeling, especially when I looked at the bones and thought, well, I they don't look like sauropod either. We could actually get something... Yeah. Because so many of our sites produce sauropods, and so many of them, we only find because there are sauropod bits coming to the surface as well. So yeah, to find something that might not be, is exciting. But obviously, as someone who has worked on sauropods for the past 10 years or so. They're my bread and butter, the more of them we find, fine by me.
Yeah. More papers more work. Yeah, that's it more understanding of stuff that we can do. Yeah, so how about we like talk a little bit about Savannasaurus. So when I was still working at the museum as a tour guide, it was really formative to sort of watch you go through the process of like, getting ready to name and get the press release ready for Savannasaurus. And it was a big motivator for me to sort of do the same and published in Scientific Reports. So it's a sauropod. Big, long neck dinosaur, like Littlefoot from Land Before Time. As I mentioned at the top, found here on Belmont station, but yeah, that original site was found in 2005?
Steve: Yeah that's right.
Adele: by David Elliott.
Steve: Yep. And when when David found the site, he and the Queensland Museum team had had a pretty successful run at the Elliot site as it was then known have since been split into three but yeah. David was out mustering sheep and found a bit of dinosaur bone. Two ends of a what looked like a limb bone to his eyes in any case, and yeah, he took a photo of them, sent an email to the Queensland Museum and said, "Yeah, I found another dinosaur ho hum". And so of course, it became the ho hum site. Just another another day, another dinosaur. And yeah, with those two, those two ends of a limb bone and David thought he had something really exciting, he thought he had a theropod dinosaur initially because...
Adele: and missing the bit in- like a long bit in the middle.
Steve: Yeah missing the shaft of the bone. But, then Judy, his wife, dashed that dream by clicking the two bits together,
Adele: You should always listen to your wife, is the moral of the story.
Steve: laughing Can't deny that! But yeah, basically, yes, she clicked them together and all of a sudden, it wasn't a theropod limb bone or another type of dinosaur it was a sauropod foot bone, one of the few bones from the back foot of a sauropod that had been found in Australia to that point. We've since found a few more as we can discuss later. But yeah, it's the only part of Wade's back foot that was found other than one of his ankle bones. But yeah, they were at...
Adele: It's a really nice toe bone though, isn't it?
Adele: That's weird, OK.
Steve: I think it's because it was just so solid that, you know, when it came up in a concretion, it didn't really fracture too much. You know.
Adele: And boy, was there a lot of in concretion.
Steve: There was. I wish I'd been at the digs for Savannasaurus, or for Wade, as it was then known. And I should say that the reason that Wade was called Wade is because during the digs, a very famous Queensland palaeontologist Mary Wade, she had been a longtime supporter of the Elliott family and helping them identify fossils and that sort of thing, but she passed away at her home while the dig was going on. And so they decided to name the dinosaur from the Ho Hum site Wade in her honour. And yeah, basically, from then on, they just they dug for a couple of weeks. But all they came down to was this huge concretion, this...
Adele: So like a big ol' rock basically.
Steve: Yeah, really, really hard rock. They couldn't get through it with, with screwdrivers or anything like that, which is great if you don't want people to damage the bones. But then gypsum had also sadly done that work, so Gypsum is a salt the basically forms from evaporation leaving the salt behind. And this gypsum...
Adele: A mineral. CaSO4?
Steve: Something like that, calcium...
Adele: Chemists don't yell at me, don't @ me, please.
Steve: But yeah, this gypsum it's sort of filled in all these cracks that were riddled through this concretion. And so what it meant, though, was that, instead of having to remove a single gigantic lump of rock, this could actually be fractured along those gypsum lines. And so it could be brought out piece by piece. And if it was done systematically, and if you were there, marking with paint pens or whatever on the joining surfaces, you could actually reassemble that concretion pretty easily, and therefore not lose the association of the bones. But unfortunately, the system changed something like halfway through the dig, and so many pieces... they lost their homes. So there are still a couple 100 pieces of Wade, only small ones really, that have never been reattached to their original position. And some bones are missing fragments and you look at them you like where is this bit?
Adele: Because it should be here because it's such a clean, like, angular break?
Steve: Exactly. Yeah. And you think oh, look, it's in there somewhere. When they eventually finish it Wade, or look even better than he does now. Maybe she I don't know if we should call her a he or she she's named after.
Adele: You could use they
Steve: I always say he, but yeah, you could use they. But yeah, with respect to the concrtion itself, it was broken up along those gypsum lines. And they filled 17 pallets with material. Just to give you some sense of scale of the operation.
Adele: I mean, yeah, these are big animals. But that's quite a lot of rock.
Steve: It was massive. And then it took almost a decade for the Australian Age of Dinosaurs and the volunteer preparators that they train up and then let loose on their fossils. Took them almost a decade to prepare Wade out of his rocky concretion, out of his tomb. And yeah, as a result, you know, the research couldn't really be begun in earnest until about 2014 or 2013 there abouts. And it was originally going to be led by Dr Scott Hocknull from Queensland Museum. But at one point, I think it was in 2014. He just had too many other irons in the fire. And either with David's encouragement, or just because he thought I needed a project, he offered me lead authorship on that paper, and I jumped at the opportunity, I thought this would be great, because by then, it had been more or less established that Wade was going to represent a new species. There were enough differences noticeable in the bones that had been prepared to that point to say that it was not the same as Wintonotitan wattsi from Elderslie Station or Diamantinasaurus matildae, also also from Elderslie.
Adele: Yeah, so you would at that point, you were sort of like in prime position, because in 2015? You'd published like our long paper, redescribing Diamantinasaurus. Did you do the same for Wintonotitan?
Steve: I did. Yeah. Technically, the Diamantinasaurus was one I think came out in 2014. But it was printed in 2015. They both came out the same year in paper form anyway. Yeah. But yeah, that meant that I had familiarised myself with the anatomy of both of those dinosaurs, probably more intimately than one should. But you know.
Adele: But then you're in prime position to sort of look at Savannasaurus and pick out those differences, rather than, I guess, trying to steer the flying machine as you're trying to build it.
Steve: Precisely. It meant that I you know, I knew exactly what bones were preserved in each animal. I could then compare Wade really solidly and rapidly with each of them. And yeah, easily established that it was a different species from both...
Adele: So what was like... what obvious features make it different to say some of the other big long neck dinosaurs that we find in Australia and getting narrow, narrowing things down in the Cretaceous in Queensland?
Steve: Well, one thing was, we looked at the pelvic girdle so the hips of Wade and realise that it was a very wide bodied animal relative to its overall size, and wider than most other sauropod dinosaurs. There are a few from South America that were even more wide bodied relative to body size, but they actually were quite small animals compared to Wade. Still, like 12 meters long or so. But smaller than Wade by some distance.
Adele: So in terms of, I guess, form, if we had to sort of break it down, like is it kind of squat and stocky, like a bulldog of a sauropod or a hippopotamus? But it still has like that long neck like? In terms of how you think about how to compare, are we also thinking sort of about how long the limbs are or is it just sort of how the torso is?
Steve: We're looking at the whole body. So I mean with Wade, and unfortunately we don't have much of the neck or tail so we have to make inferences just based on the bones we have. But when we talk about his overall body size, we have most of the thoracic vertebrae, the bones through the torso. So we can at least use that and his forelimb as a sort of comparison for overall size. And then use that to scale him against other sauropods as well. I guess if I was going to say like how you can gauge other sauropods, things like Diplodocus, it's like a giraffe cause it's sort of fairly lightly built, but it's got a long neck and a long tail that would have been held out more or less horizontally from the body.
Something like Brachiosaurus is like an elephant, but with a really long neck, so a fatter giraffe. It's got its legs somewhat out to the side, it's actually sort of built more like a hyena in some ways with the shoulders taller than the hind legs, or the pelvis. But titanosaurs, you'd probably say that they were sort of like long necked rhinos? But Wade is almost more like a long necked hippo. So, squatter. He's still got relatively long forelimbs at least. But the proportions of them are different to things like Diamantinasaurus.
Adele: And Diamantinasaurus is a titanosaur.
Steve: It is, yeah.
Adele: I mean, sadly, when people hear the word titanosaur, they think of probably the ones found in South America, and sadly ours aren't quite that big.
Steve: No, not quite. Well, you know. Australotitan in Eromanga might be pushing them for that sort of size, you know, 70 tonnes and 30 metres long or there abouts. Yeah, our dinosaurs are about 16, 18, possibly pushing 20 metres.
Adele: What would that be in like, feet?
Steve: 20m is about 65 feet I think?
Adele: Something like that, yeah.
Steve: Maybe 70. Yeah, that's about the length of ours. We know that Diamantinasaurus probably weighed between 20-25 tonnes, Wade was probably similar but yeah. The main differences between Wade and Diamantinasaurus were that Wade was just wider bodied, had a much broader pelvis. The sacrum? Which are the vertebrae fused between the hips, they were similarly broad. So it wasn't that the pelvis had been sort of crushed downwards and the widening was artificial, it was natural. The sacrum fit right between that part of the pelvis so we could tell that it was exactly as it was when it was alive. But the other things were that there were some differences in the ankle in particular, there's a bone called the astragalus. In Wade, it's basically a pyramid. But in Diamantinasaurus, it's a sort of small pyramid, then with a long shelf to the side, and it's very different from that of Wade. If we had more of the hindlimb of Wade, we'd probably see it's more of a different structure to what we see in Diamantinasaurus. But unfortunately, all we have from the hindlimb is the astragalus and that one metatarsal that David found at the surface.
Adele: That one toe bone, yeah.
Steve: So yeah! We did what we could with Wade, we were able to differentiate...
Adele: I mean, that's the game of palaeontology, we work with the fossils that we're given.
Steve: Yeah look, as Tom Rich says, and I don't know if it was his quote originally but he loves it, "the best fossil is the when you have".
Adele: Yeah, it is a good saying.
Steve: Simply put, before Age of Dinosaurs kicked into gear, there were what? 7 or 8 fossils of sauropods known from Queensland?
Adele: That's crazy! That's so funny to me because in a paper that you published last year? The tracksite paper? You summarised a lot of the sites that have been found out here and there's like over 50...
Steve: There's dozens of sites now yeah, it's unbelievable, and it's just because yeah. The museum keeps digging up new sites and finding new fossils and it's growing massively. But with Wade, once we'd established those differences between it and Diamantinasaurus and Wintonotitan we were able to say yeah OK, it's probably not the same species as its approximate contemporaries. And we needed to compare it with other sauropods from around the world and we did and we found that it had a combination of unique characters and we were able to then say. Yeah, this is a brand new species to science. Which was amazing. I had always dreamed of naming a dinosaur, ever since I was a kid.
Adele: I think a lot of people do yeah.
Steve: Yeah. I guess that not many people get to achieve that dream and si, even if it never happens again, I'm just stoked that it got to happen once. And so the name that we gave Wade was Savannasaurus elliottorum. Elliottorum honours the Elliott family, because they founded the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum, Bob and Harry were still out there digging today on the dig, and hopefully will be for years to come.
Adele: I think so.
Steve: Because without them, those digs just wouldn't happen. They're amazing on the machines and just so diligent on the dig site. And yeah so Savannasaurus, "saurus" obviously means lizard or reptile. I sigh it wasn't my choice the name Savannasaurus, I'll admit that. And I was somewhat against it as well laughs
Adele: Oh really?
Steve: Yeah, because the fact of the matter is that savannah, today, is grassland.
Adele: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's a grassland now, but back then, it wasn't.
Steve: Exactly. There was no grass anywhere in the world so you can't really call it a savannah dinosaur, because there was no savannah for it to occupy it was in forest and floodplain. But anyway, the fact of the matter is that Savannasaurus is an easy name to remember, easy name to spell and easy name to pronounce as well. So it's not gonna be like Opisthocoelicaudia or, Futalognkosaurus, where the general public is gonna look at it and "yep, go for it, mhhmm" I can't say that, I don't want to remember it.
Adele: Yeah, basically!
Steve: But yes, so Savannasaurus, nice and easy. When we included Savannasaurus in a phylogenetic analysis which is basically, you put it in a computer program, you score it or you appraise it for all sorts of different anatomical features, whether or not things are present or absent or how well developed they are...
Adele: Yeah, unfortunately, even in palaeontology we can't avoid math. Even though we now have computers to do it for us.
Steve: Yes. You wouldn't want to work out that sort of analysis on your own.
Adele: Oh, goodness!
Steve: They used to try, but it was difficult.
Adele: Yeah so, basically, you tell a computer what the shape of...
Steve: Find the family tree
Adele: Find the path of least resistance, and try and find a family tree, and you're describing bone shape using binary, essentially.
Steve: Yeah, and the process is called parsimony. And that means being miserly. So just think of these trees as Ebenezer Scrooge's route through the data, he's just going to take as little effort as possible and give as little ground as possible, and make as few changes as possible. When we did that, we found that Savannasaurus came out, right next to Diamantinasaurus.
Adele: That doesn't really strike me as a bug surprise? Considering they're from... they should be similar in age, because we find them in the Winton Formation.
Steve: Yeah well, the thing is they came out next to each other, but Wintonotitan was quite removed.
Adele: Mmmm! That can also happen though.
Steve: Just as we've got chimps and bonobos around today and Homo sapiens, it doesn't reflect the diversity of the genus homo and yeah, we diverged from them something like 7 million years ago or possibly more if I'm misremembering.
Adele: Hey! It's Adele. I just checked online and Steve was right. Humans diverged from members of the bonobos and Chimpanzees between 5 to 7 million years ago. Also, for anyone who cares, I got the chemical formula for gypsum right. It is, CaSO4. My chemistry teacher Mr Dwyer would be so proud. OK! Back to the interview.
Steve: So you can definitely have groups that are living in the same area from long, long evolutionary connection to one another. Well, I guess today we've got lungfish in Queensland. Our own common ancestors like 300+ million years in the past so...
Adele: Yeah true.
Steve: Yeah with Savannasaurus, it wasn't surprising to see it coming out next to Diamantinasaurus, because we had also. Well we'd identified differences between them, we had also identified many similarities between them as well. To the point where, it is possible at some point in the future that someone might say "Savannasaurus is a male or a female Diamantinasaurus, they're just the same genus and same species" and it shouldn't have been named as a separate animal. I don't think it's going to happen?
Adele: I don't think so, just because we've touched a little bit on the form of Savannasaurus and it's quite wide bodied compared to Diamantinasaurus. And just to sort of, get into the function of that and how they would have shared and coexisted in this temperate forest. Correct me if I'm wrong but it seems that Diamantinasaurus was a little bit more agile and could've gone through the trees a little bit more, whereas Savannasaurus probably wasn’t able to do that.
Steve: Yeah, being a bit more wider bodied it might have had a bit more trouble going through dense forest than something like Diamantinasaurus. I mean, at the same time, these animals were probably both equally capable of knocking trees down if they wanted to, too. But I think, what it really comes down to is that Savannasaurus was probably better adapted for going through really muddy mucky terrain.
Adele: And there was a lot of it out here, based on sort of our deposits. Yeah a lot of deposits are muddy billabongs full of silt and yeah, we find a lot of sauropods who potentially walked in and couldn't pull themselves out and perished.
Steve: Yeah the number of sauropod front feet to back feet probably tips us off to that.
Adele: It's a super skewed ratio! It has been very frustrating, until recent years.
Steve: Yeah but it probably reflects them getting bogged front first. And Diamantinasaurus, you know the original specimen where you've got the left and right front feet right next to each other.
Adele: They were in the same concretion, like the same big rock hey?
Steve: Yeah and at depth within the site as well so clearly bogged at some point. Savannasaurus might have been the same, we only found one front foot complete. The other front foot was almost not there, it was iust one part of one metacarpal. But yeah, it might've still gotten bogged, even though it seemed to have been better adapted for crossing really mucky muddy terrain than Diamantinasaurus was. So, it would've made sense for these sauropods to converge with things like hippos and elephants and be able to cope with those sorts of environmental settings in this area because after the Eromanga Sea receded around 100 million years ago...
Adele: So a big inland sea that covered, definitely a good portion of Queensland. Did it sort of go into other states as well?
Steve: In earlier iterations, yeah. It covered.. it basically turned Australia into a series of islands at one point in its history. But by the time that you get to these dinosaurs in the Winton area, that sea is long gone. Or well, it's gone. How long gone it is, depends on where you are in the Winton Formation. And that's the other factor that is possibly a bit problematic out here. The Winton Formation at its base is probably only around 100 million years old. But at its top, it might be as young as 93 million years old.
Adele: A lot can happen in 7 million years.
Adele: Possibly one species evolving into another perhaps?
Steve: Indeed. Or species coming in from elsewhere and colonising new areas. Geographic barriers forming and separating.
Adele: Or even just climatic differences, because one of the things that was brought up in the Savannasaurus paper is that sauropods really seemed to have liked hanging out near the equator and stuff.
Steve: Yeah, they liked the low latitudes, they didn't like the high latitudes. And in fact, the results that we had from that 2016 paper where we named Savannasaurus
Adele: Which I will link to in the shownotes and you can read because it's in open access.
Steve: That paper in some ways didn't even provide as strong evidence for that, sauropod preference, as we did in a follow up, which was the redescription of Alex a Diamantinasaurus specimen with a braincase. Because we then looked at where Savannasaurus sits in the sauropod family tree again, and it and Diamantinasaurus actually came out with another dinosaur called Sarmientosaurus, which is from Argentina. And it's about the same age. And so what would seem is happening, and this has actually been reinforced by other research that has been published I think my Chiarenza and colleagues. During the time when the dinosaurs of the Winton Formation were around, which is about 95 to 98 million years ago, Earth was really, really warm! And that probably meant that the tropics, what we would consider the tropics, were much more extensive than they are today.
Adele: Well it was sort of like a milder climate. We're not having frozen ice, uh, frozen poles or anything like that.
Steve: You've got what's called a sort of "flatter latitudinal gradient", so the pole to pole variability in temperature is much lower than it is today, where we've got freezing poles and warm equator. So if that was rhe case, there's no ice at the poles and the temperate zone extends to the Arctic and Antarctic circles, it means that sauropods have got the sort of habitat that they like, all the way down through Antarctica.
Adele: Because at this time, Antarctica is connecting Australia and South America, it's part of the big supercontinent Gondwana. So it's not so much a land bridge, it's a big ol' supercontinent!
Steve: And the thing is that we know that animals were using it as a passageway
Adele: And thoughts as well
Steve: Absolutely, sorry
Adele: No, all good!
Steve: They were using it as a sort of passageway between South America and Australia as recently as probably 40 million years ago or thereabouts. Because it's only 50 million years ago where you get severance between Tasmania and Antarctica and the Drake Passage opens even later between South America and Antarctica. So yeah, this interchange, there were marsupials!
Adele: Yeah true. Everyone thinks of them as true aussie icons, but they didn't evolve here.
Steve: Yeah they're still in South America and they've even intruded North America but yeah they were in Antarctica as well. They would have had to have been to get between the continents and you can just imagine them sitting there, freezing when Antarctica became isolated. But during the dinosaur age, that just wasn't the case. South America and Australia were pretty firmly connected to Antarctica for much of the Mesozoic era. South America had a bit more of an intermittent connection, but when it was connected, land animals could just walk across if the polar conditions were right. And so, sauropods seemed to have done that 95 to 100 million years ago because it was so warm and these are big animals, they would have been on the move looking for food all the time.
Adele: Definitely no chance of them rafting, like, getting caught in a storm on a piece of wood.
Adele: That's definitely not happening for sauropods.
Steve: Not like iguanas to the Galapagos or primates from the west coast of Africa to South America.
Adele: I think even a baby one would struggle.
Steve: It would. Some people have wondered about transporting eggs, but of course you've got to keep them out of the water.
Adele: Because if an egg gets wet, it drowns.
Steve: It'll drown because it's permeable.
Adele: It needs to breathe across that eggshell, that's what it's for.
Steve: Exactly. So yeah, very unlikely that sauropods we're crossing oceans unless they were swimming like elephants do today. And elephants can,
Adele: Not across oceans.
Steve: But not across oceans of that magnitude, so it has to have been a land crossing. And yeah that seems to be exactly what Savannasaurus, Diamantinasaurus, Sarmientosaurus were doing. And we see it in other groups of dinosaurs living alongside them as well which is fantastic because the more evidence we can get for a connection between South America and Australia via Antarctica, the better our understanding of what the world was actually like 95 to 100 million years ago when the dinosaurs were living here in Winton. And we're finding these dinosaurs here, but we know that they were ranging across Australia in that time, probably across New Zealand and Antarctica but those rocks are limited in those places. So, we have to fill in the gaps with what little knowledge we have. We know we're not going to be able to ever fill in the whole story, but we can make inferences based on the evidence that we have.
Adele: Yeah so getting back to Savannasaurus and Diamantinasaurus, it's really hard to say based on the fossil record, what a particular animal is eating, but, do you think that maybe they're eating at similar points in the canopy? Like, at similar height? Or could there be a difference?
Steve: I reckon there would have been a difference. You know, to have two big herbivorous animals living in the same place at the same time, as far as we know. Again, we could work out that they're quite different in age at some point in the future, but if we assume that they were definitely contemporaries, then Savannasaurus might've been better adapted for cropping plants nearer to water bodies than Diamantinasaurus was. Because it's got that sort of wider bodied build, they were able to deal with muddy terrain than Diamantinasaurus, which might have preferred sort of upland areas and less muddy terrain. So it might have preferred plants that were able to grow in forests, rather than along the water's edge. And so there probably would have been some sort of partitioning in that regard. But, with Savannasaurus, at the present time we only have one specimen of that animal.
Adele: And there's no skull, no teeth.
Steve: No skull, no teeth. We don't have the whole neck. We don't know how high it was actually able to reach above the ground.
Adele: Oh, in terms of the biomechanics and physical constraints.
Adele: But we do have a skull...
Steve: But we do have a skull of Diamantinasaurus
Adele: Am I meant to say that though?
Steve: No but we have Alex. And Alex has a braincase. Alex has a tooth. Matilda has a dentary and a tooth.
Adele: And on a recent paper that came out this year, we described some teeth of a sauropod, potentially Diamantinasaurus.
Steve: Yeah, so in 2021 we named the group that contains Savannasaurus, Diamantinasaurus and Sarmientosaurus as the Diamantinasauria, because they seem to form a natural group.
Adele: Pretty consistent, they always...
Steve: Cluster together, yeah. And so these teeth seem to be from a Diamantinasaurian. Whether it's Diamantinasaurus or Savannasaurus, we don't know but we might find out because those teeth are actually associated with a skeleton. And, from what I've seen in the lab over the last few days, there are more teeth that need to be worked on, including some still in jaw bits so we're actually going to get a much better idea of what animal we're dealing with there. But my anticipation would be that we might see some subtle differences between Savannasaurus and Diamantinasaurus' skull shapes and dentition, because they were probably eating slightly different foods. We are, and this I can say because this is vague enough, we are definitely gonna get a better understanding of Diamantinasaurus' dietary preferences in the future because we have unpublished specimens that fill in a lot of the gaps that we have in our understanding of the anatomy of that animal. But also some that shine light on what it actually was eating as well which is pretty exciting as well. And if we get similar specimens that do the same for Savannasaurus we might actually be able to really get a good understanding of how these sauropods actually divided and conquered. Because, they were doing it throughout their history. In the Jurassic, in the Upper Jurassic in the Morrison Formation of the western United States you have just this absolute menagerie of sauropods. And again, the Morrison Formation is probably a package of sediment that represents 5 to 10 million years but there are more than a dozen genera of sauropods in that formation, and to have so many large animals...
Adele: There are sauropods, or sauropodomorphs on every continent. Basically.
Steve: There's are sauropods on every continent, even Antarctica. They were so diverse, so widespread. They went through some times when they went extinct locally in North America and possibly Europe during the Cretaceous but then they came roaring back at the end. So they were never really in terminal decline, anywhere.
Adele: Present until the end Cretaceous mass extinction, and what, there's over... you might be able to correct me on this. More than 200 species of sauropods?
Steve: Yeah, easily.
Adele: And it's not, you know... we're still
Steve: There's probably more than 100 titanosaurs named.
Adele: Oh, I mean that doesn't surprise me!
Steve: Yeah, they were incredibly successful animals and they did it all with a brain smaller than my fist and...
Adele: Steve has a normal sized fist, I should say.
Steve: Yeah I don't have a giant hand.
Adele: I'm sick of these jokes about my giant hand!
Steve: The first such incident... No, sauropods we're remarkable animals and we still have so much that we don't understand about them, which we would love to be able to shed some light on, especially with some Australian fossils.
Adele: I mean like, with the fossil record and sauropods, there have been a lot of misconceptions, and there are still misconceptions today. People thinking that they have two brains, and that they had to live in water.
Steve: Yeah some of these ideas just won't die because I don't know they might sound plausible or explain a way why sauropods were able to succeed where other animals didn't. But yeah, they only had one brain! Some of them...
Adele: Brain's are fast! Even though sometimes before I have my coffee in the morning, it feels like my brain's slow, it's still doing a lot of stuff!
Steve: Yeah, I think some people tried to calculate how fast sauropods could get messages to their tail, because they had some super long neurons to actually get messages all the way to the end, but still. They didn't need any help, simply put. They had this sacral relay centre, but it's not thinking. It's just a nerve mass. And many dinosaurs had it, it's not a brain.
Adele: mic drop.
Steve: I guess, one thing that I really dislike is that there is an individual who has been putting books out and doing talks on the "aquatic dinosaurs, they had to have been buoyed up by water to walk" or whatever else. It's complete hogwash. Sauropod footprints are found on terrestrial settings, we've found them all over the world. They didn't need water to move around. But the fact is that Savannasaurus might have been quite happy in water. It doesn't mean that all sauropods were. I'd hate to see that kind of information misconstrued as supporting that ridiculous idea because most sauropods probably wouldn't have really liked water too much. One of my pet ideas about sauropods is that one of the reasons they have long necks is so that they could actually reach water, without having to approach the water too closely. They could reach out over the mudflat, get a drink and then trundle away, without getting their feet wet.
Adele: I thought it was more like an efficiency thing, like, I'm gonna plant here and just gonna move my big ol' neck and I'm gonna reach as much vegetation as I can, because moving my whole body? Mmmm that's a lot of work. Whereas, if I just move my neck, that's just energy efficient.
Steve: And look, that's almost certainly a better explanation but I think it's a nice sort of, added benefit of having a long neck, you don't need to get all the way down to the water's edge. I mean, you look at giraffes now. Because of the way they're put together, they have to adopt this ridiculous stance.
Adele: It's a very different posture to how they normally are.
Steve: Yeah. But sauropods didn't have to do that, because instead of their necks sort of coming out of the "top" of their body, or most of them. Brachiosaurs are an exception, but the neck is more or less coming straight out, forwards. Rather than upwards, and so it meant that they could just reach down, bang, head's in the water. I can take a drink of water without getting my feet wet, and Savannasaurus and Diamantinasaurus were probably doing exactly that. But Diamantinasaurus was a bit lit keen to get its feet wet than Savannasaurus.
Look, we've still got so much to learn about sauropods in Australia in particular, but sauropods generally are still not terribly well understood...
Adele: an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, wrapped in a vest? Like Nelson Muntz?
Steve: Well, seldom in a concretion... but no, they're on every continent but so rarely do you actually get a complete skeleton of a sauropod. So most sauropods we have no idea what their heads looked like. We have no idea how long their necks were. Basic questions about their anatomy we just can't answer. And part of it's probably just down to the way the fossils form. They generally need to be buried pretty rapidly. It's hard to bury big things really quickly.
Adele: Yeah, so you're not getting a lot of skin impressions or that exceptional preservation. I'm guessing there's not many fossil tendons which can happen in other groups, but again, you're normally getting something that's buried really quickly.
Steve: It's hard, yeah. So you're not going to find like the beautiful feathered dinosaurs in Liaoning. You're not going to see sauropods, generally speaking, amongst them. There are a few, there's one that's a really crushed skull, but it's just different preservation to those wonderful feathered dinosaur fossils because they just weren't dying in the same way or being buried and fossilised in the same way. At the same time, the fossil record does deliver sauropods regularly because they're so big and obvious.
Adele: And because they're easy for people to spot.
Steve: Exactly. And we know that the Winton area will keep delivering. The number of sauropod sites that have never been dug that we know about.
Adele: Well we're digging one right now. I mean, we could potentially move on to another site. We moved, last week from a site that was sauropod.
Steve: Which was in the same paddock as two other sauropods.
Adele: Yeah, I'm seeing a pattern here.
Steve: They're just everywhere, and it's great, but we often only get bits and pieces of each one.
Adele: If a sauropod could crush a small ornithopod, that would be nice.
Steve: Well there's a crushed turtle fossil in Germany so, there's definitely sort of...
Adele: what, antagonistic?
Steve: No, no, no. Precedent if you were to talk about it in a legal setting. There's precedent for a sauropod to have crushed an ornithopod, but they've got a bit more speed than a turtle. So yeah, would probably have to put in a bit of effort to crush one of them. One thing that is a big blank in the sauropod fossil record is Jurassic eggs: there are none. Plenty of the Late Cretaceous, not so many in the Early Cretaceous, if any that I can really think of. So we don't really know what their reproductive habits were. We don't really know how sauropods mated. Brachiosaurs would've had a hell of a time, probably. Unless they had some er, soft tissues we don't know about.
Adele: So when we say sauropod egg, even though like they're huge in size, the eggs aren't that big though are they.
Steve: No, no. They're smaller than soccer balls generally speaking.
Adele: And like a few of them, rather than just one or two.
Steve: Yeah, they're sort of like turtles laying big eggs. So like a dozen or two dozen eggs per nest. They're just simple scrapes, more often than not.
Adele: And we're assuming like, not much parental care as in...
Steve: Practically none.
Adele: Lay the eggs, OK bye! Good luck!
Steve: More or less. Because when you think about it, a sauropod hatching from a soccer ball or smaller sized egg... If it's trying to hang around it's parents, who weigh 20 tonnes, it's more likely to get crushed than cared for. So yeah, they probably would have had to sort of fend for themselves for a while. And having lots of babies, just like modern day turtles do, you can imagine...
Adele: Some of you are going to get eaten, but some of you might survive.
Steve: Sauropod parents are basically going, "you're cut, you're cut, you're cut, or at least, evolution and natural selection are." But yeah, the sauropod parents are basically like, "well, probably won't see many of you again, but some of you will make it. good luck!" laughing And I think the term from Archer is spray and pray.
Adele: Oh my God.
Steve: Have lots and lots of eggs, and hope for the best. R-selection all the way, baby.
Adele: R-selection as opposed to... K?
Steve: I can't even remember... K is few young, lots of care
Adele: Which is what humans do, and then R I think was rapid.
Steve: Yeah, many young, little care.
Adele: And sometimes insects are like "some of you will hatch out, and you'll be food for the other ones".
Steve: It's rough. The joys of nature. But yeah! Look, as far as other things to do with sauropods are concerned, sigh we don't really know if they had stomach stones. Most sauropod skeletons don't seem to have them so my inference would be that very few of them actually swallowed stones to help with their digestion.
Adele: It'd be interesting to see if you could see wear on the teeth, but I guess it wouldn't be regular either.
Steve: They'd just sort of be plucking stones, they wouldn't be wearing their teeth much, and yeah. Gut contents we've never found, at least not published. Hint hint.
Adele: Watch this space.
Steve: Yeah! Coprolites, you know, the only ones that have been attributed to sauropods could be from other dinosaurs.
Adele: So fossil poop.
Steve: Yeah exactly. Direct evidence of exactly what they were eating would be really, really nice and we might get some of that in the future. But also just there are so many questions still about the evolution of sauropods, where certain species actually sit on the tree is really contentious. One of them is actually one that I worked on, which is called Euhelopus. And depending on who's view you subscribe to, it could be a late surviving relative of things like Mamenchisaurus, which is a super long necked dinosaur from China. Or, it could be a primitive relative of titanosaurs, and those are very different parts of the sauropod family tree right there.
Adele: And then its name, Euhelopus. "Eu" means true? And then "helopus" would be...
Steve: Yep, it means "marsh foot".
Adele: Oh marsh foot?
Steve: Yeah so it was originally called Helopus until that name was realised to be preoccupied, so they named it Euhelopus, the true marsh foot.
Adele: OK, OK. That makes more sense.
Steve: No but that's a Chinese sauropod, recently been dated to the very earliest Cretaceous, which makes it really interesting because it's coming from a time where we don't actually get that many sauropod fossils.
Adele: I thought there weren't that many dinosaur fossils, but I could be wrong.
Steve: Yeah I think you're right. It's the Berriasian stage for the Cretaceous, the very earliest Cretaceous. Very few dinosaur fossils worldwide and yeah, as a result, it's of great interest and especially because teeth that are very similar to it come from Early Cretaceous rocks all throughout Asia. But also getting into Europe as well, so, if it's a late surviving member and relative of Mamenchisaurus then yeah it's showing that these animals could actually spread throughout continents during the Early Cretaceous. Because they're in Africa in the Late Jurassic as well, but yeah, who knows? We'll work it out one day.
Adele: You've got a lot of work ahead of you and five years at Curtin, at least.
Steve: I do but yeah, that'll be very different, you know, working on sauropods sort of part time and doing other stuff the rest of the time but yeah, during that time I'll definitely get to work on some of the exceptionally preserved sauropod specimens here at Age of Dinosaurs.
Adele: I think that's a good point to leave it here, um, we are sweltering in this car and it's almost time for dinner at the dig. Thank you so much being the first guest on the podcast, and yeah. If people are sort of interested in keeping up to date with your work, what's the best place to find you?
Steve: Yeah my ResearchGate page is kept pretty up to date, the same with Google Scholar but on my website which is StephenPoropat.weebly.com I maintain a list of my publications. Not just my technical ones but also my popular articles that I write for websites or for the Australian Age of Dinosaurs journal, you can find a list of all that.
Adele: I'll chuck it in the shownotes as well, but basically if you just Google his name, and sauropods? You'll definitely find it.
Steve: If you see any of my papers and can't access them freely, just drop me an email or leave a comment on my website and I'll send you the pdf because, yeah, I want that research out there and...
Adele: When palaeontologists don't make papers in open access, it's not because we hate you. It's because we don't want to pay 3 or 4 grand, everytime that you do it so you have to be a bit choosey. But yeah, most people I've messaged have been super lovely and they get back to you pretty quickly and send you the paper that you need.
Steve: Because at the end of the day, we put a lot of effort into writing papers, we want people to read them. We want people to find them useful and hiding them behind paywalls doesn't really do anyone a service, except for the journals. So yeah, I want to share my research as much as possible.
Adele: Thank you so much for sharing your expertise and knowledge on Savannasaurus and we talked about a bunch of other sauropods as well. I might have you back on the show at some point, I mean... I dunno, work on an exceptional sauropod with gut contents then, well probably have to talk about it later.
Steve: I suspect we might. Or one that preserves parts of the sauropods anatomy that we don't get often either.
Adele: Yeah that's true. Thank you so much.
Steve: You are more than welcome, thanks for having me.
Adele: Steve! Thank you so much for sitting down and talking with me, I always have heaps of fun chatting to him about dinosaurs and any group that I'm not super familiar with. He is an incredible mentor and yeah, I said it before but I'll say it again, I am so lucky to have him on my team and work with him.
Before we wrap up this episode, and get into final thank yous I have a couple follow ups from our last episode on Hallucigenia.
In case you missed that one, Hallucigenia is a spicy noodle or worm-like creature that's about an inch long with legs, claws, spines and tentacles. I couldn't find a lot to talk about in terms of pop culture references and kinda just assumed that you couldn't get a Hallucigenia plushie but as it turns out, I was wrong and I couldn't be happier about it.
So I got a message from Katherine Ann Jones, just a couple hours after the episode dropped letting me know you can grab Hallucigenia plushies from Gage Beasley Shop.com. The mouth reminds me of Pingu that claymation cartoon penguin, especially when he says Noot Noot, it's pretty cute. I also saw another plushie on eBay and Amazon which is a little more chonky and is missing the eyes and mouth but it's got this like pink and orange tie dye fabric? It's very good. The colours totally match the vibe of this weird critter which almost makes up for the fact that it's not scientifically spot on in terms of details.
And if you're keen to craft your own Hallucigenia, there's a crochet pattern up on Etsy! It's really cute, I can't knit or crochet to save my life but if that's you're jam and you're looking for something a bit more challenging check out Katya's Yarn Bois on Etsy
Thanks Katherine! I really enjoyed getting lost in that rabbit hole and having like, ten tabs open on Hallucigenia stuffed toys. Don't be afraid to message me about the show or some facts that need straightening out, and sending through your feedback! I genuinely read all the messages, even if it takes me a while to get back to you.
That includes reviews like this one from Ander on Apple Podcasts:
It says, "Best show ever", and then,
"I really love this show, and as of the time of me writing this I just went trilobite hunting in Utah - I didn’t find any complete big ones, but I found one about the size of a stud on a Lego brick. I really love the podcast you make and the animals you talk about. 5 stars!!!" with 3 exclamation points.
Thanks Ander for taking the time to listen to the show and rate and review the podcast. I've never found trilobites before during fieldwork but it's very cool that I got to kind of be part of that experience? Also loved the description of how itty bitty they were, and hopefully you find some big complete ones next time.
I'd love to know if anyone else has listened to the show digging for fossils, or even if you just listen when you're cleaning the house. If you've got 5 minutes, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts or rate us on Spotify and let me know when and where you listen to the show.
I'll be posting some palaeo art of Savannasaurus elliottorum to the Pals in Palaeo Instagram so definitely check that out, and if you're interested in seeing what that toe bone from Savannasaurus looks like, the famous toe bone, I'll post a photo of me holding it to our Instagram @palsinpalaeo. That photo was taken by none other than my friend and the Pals in Palaeo podcast editor and producer César Puechmarin.
I hope I didn’t completely butcher that pronunciation but yeah, I did not take French in school and it shows. Anyway...
Thanks César for taking that photo and working behind scenes on yet another episode. If you want to hear from César and learn about living avian dinosaurs AKA birds, he has his own podcast called Death By Birding. Even if you're not into bird watching but you just like hearing about animals, highly recommend Death By Birding. Just be warned that he does swear a bit so, maybe don't to it with little kids around. Or do, but just know there will be consequences to your actions.
Thank you to Crumpet Club House and special thanks to Jenny Zhao for our podcast cover art. It's so good, not only does it have a sauropod but there's a plesiosaur, my pterosaur Ferrodraco, an insect in amber, fossil footprint, tools of the trade and a trilobite. It's everything I ever wanted in like a piece of cover art and more. By the way if you want, you can grab stickers with those designs, the link will be in the show notes but they're available through my online store Strange Magic Shop. Something I started before the podcast got going but all legit and powered through Shopify.
Big thank you to the Hello Kelly boys for our theme music and all the tunes you've heard on each and every episode. You can listen to more of their music, including their latest album Sweet Nostalgia on Spotify, Band Camp, their website and wherever else you get music. Special thank you to Francy for being an all round awesome human being and workshopping the ideas I had for the theme music, taking them to the next level and creating something amazing just for Pals in Palaeo. So grateful I stumbled across Hello Kelly and for all your music, if you're a jaded thirty something year old who loved emo and pop rock as a teenager, chances are you'll love HelloKelly so get on it.
That brings us to the end of the episode and the end of our first season. Thank you so much for listening and supporting the show and hanging out with me and all the incredible guests we've had on so far.
I think I'm supposed to end this thing with some kind of cliffhanger? Because we mostly talk about dead things anyway I really can't kill off any characters or anything like that. So, yeah, sorry but my hand are tied.
To find out when the next episode drops, whether it's a bonus episode or the start of Season 2, you can stay up to date with the show by following us on Instagram @palsinpalaeo.
I hope this extra long episode was a satisfying season finale, I have had so much fun making these episodes for you and I again, I hope listening to them feels like hanging out with a friend (or two) who cannot shut up about ancient organisms and uncovering their secrets.
Rest assured, you haven't heard the last from me, I cannot wait to bring you more facts on fossils and palaeontology
But in the words of the terminator: I'll be back
Kundrát et al. (2020):
Specialized Craniofacial Anatomy of a Titanosaurian Embryo from Argentina
Dinosaur diaries: the first-ever 3D fossil of a titanosaur embryo
Teensy long-necked dinosaur embryo reveals weird snout horn
Fossil Reveals ‘One of the Cutest Dinosaurs’ Ever Found
An 'Egg-Tooth'-like Structure in Titanosaurian Sauropod Embryos
Meet Savannasaurus, Australia’s newest titanosaur
New Australian sauropods shed light on Cretaceous dinosaur palaeobiogeography
Osteology of the Wide-Hipped Titanosaurian Sauropod Dinosaur Savannasaurus Elliottorum from the Upper Cretaceous Winton Formation of Queensland, Australia
Poropat & Kear (2013):
Photographic Atlas and Three-Dimensional Reconstruction of the Holotype Skull of Euhelopus zdanskyi with Description of Additional Cranial Elements
Poropat et al. (2021):
Second specimen of the Late Cretaceous Australian sauropod dinosaur Diamantinasaurus matildae provides new anatomical information on the skull and neck of early titanosaurs