Adelaide Zoo

Meet the dinos coming to the zoo

Dino expert digs up the dirt on prehistoric residents taking over Adelaide Zoo

World Dinosaur Day (1 June) marks just one month until dinosaurs take over Adelaide Zoo!

Adelaide Zoo and Illuminate Adelaide’s Universal Kingdom: Prehistoric Nights presented by SA Power Networks runs from 4 July -21 July.  Featuring state-of-the-art puppetry, new purpose-built installations, and a whole host of light and colour, renowned creative studios Erth and A Blanck Canvas join forces to craft this sprawling prehistoric world.

Guests will wander in a sea of floating Biolumes, see playful Plesiosaurs frolic with their hatchlings, and even come eye-to-eye with Australia’s own sharp-toothed Megaraptor.

So, how are keepers more used to wallabies and Sumatran Tigers preparing for the arrival of creatures which last roamed the planet millions of years ago? They’ve called in the help of an expert…
South Australia’s very own dino expert, Professor John Long, is a highly accomplished palaeontologist, author and Professor at Flinders University.

With first-hand experience digging up dinosaur bones in Australia, international expeditions and researching the prehistoric species set to light up Adelaide Zoo, Professor Long has uncovered details about the zoo’s incoming dinos.

Dino fact file

“The Leaellynasaura was about a metre long and it had a short, almost deer like face. It had teeth for grinding and chewing prey so it wasn’t scary looking with sharp teeth as it wasn’t a meat eater. It definitely ate plants.

“The most remarkable thing about the Leaellynasaura, discovered by Tom and Pat Rich who named it after their daughter Leaellyn, when she was just a young girl, is that it lived in a polar climate at a time when that would have been dark for three months of the year and very, very cold. So there’s even theories based on the growth of legs and the bones of these dinosaurs and that they may have hibernated over winter in burrows to in order to survive the harsh winter,” said Professor Long.

“Australovenator was about seven or eight metres in length and was definitely a predator. It had sharp teeth with serrations like steak knives. It was definitely a hunter that had large arms for grabbing its prey.
“It was a swift, running, predatory dinosaur, like a sort of slimmed down T-Rex on steroids.”

Australovenator bones and remains have been found in Queensland and Victoria.

Professor Long has literally uncovered the dirt on Plesoisaurs in Western Australia and even named a new discovered species – Leptocleidus clemai.

“Plesiosaurs are really interesting and another group I’ve actually done work on and published scientific papers on because when I was working in Western Australia, we kept coming across plesiosaur remains in some of the Jurassic and Cretaceous rocks there.

“Plesiosaurs were like the seals of the seas back in the dinosaur age, some of them had short short necks and long sort of snouts with teeth for catching fish.

“We definitely know they ate fish because remains of opalised plesiosaurs found in South Australia at the opal fields of Coober Pedy and also Lightning Ridge in New South Wales have been found with the remains of fish in their guts,” said Professor Long.

“The biggest, meanest predator in the oceans at that time about 100 million years ago!

“Kronosaurus was probably between ten and 12 meters in length. It had a very big skull up to two meters in length with banana sized teeth.

“Clearly a ferocious predator, it probably preyed on other marine reptiles like ichthyosaurs and smaller plesiosaurs, sharks and other large fishes that lived in those ancient seas that invaded inland Australia. There was a big artesian basin of marine seas that covered central Queensland and South Australia in Central Australia at that time.

“It was first found back in the 1920s and described from just a piece of the snout by Queensland museum scientists called Heber Longman. But in 1931, an American expedition from Harvard came out to Australia and found a fairly complete skeleton of one which they prepared up over 20 years and is now on display in the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology in America,” said Professor Long.

“Mosasaurs are another group of exclusively marine giant reptiles.

“They evolved in the late Cretaceous from about 80 million years to 66 million years ago. This is right at the very end of the age of dinosaurs. They occupied the seas and began as small creatures a couple of meters long to becoming the largest, most bulky marine reptiles in the oceans ever, reaching up to sizes of 20 – 25 meters in length.

“Some of them had big sharp teeth for catching prey. Others, though, had adapted with rounded teeth like nutcrackers for cracking shells of large marine ammonites, which were squid like creatures growing up to two meters in length, living in the Cretaceous seas.

“Mososaurs went extinct at the end of the Cretaceous with the extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs. And that’s when sharks had free rein to get a lot bigger,” said Professor Long.

The dino fun for World Dinosaur Day continued at Adelaide Zoo today where keepers celebrated with themed enrichment for the modern day dinosaurs – Cecilia the Komodo Dragon and Martina the Southern Cassowary.

“When we think of birds today, they’re actually dinosaurs. They’re descendants of the therapod dinosaurs like T-Rex,” finished Professor Long.

The chance to step back in time at Universal Kingdom: Prehistoric Nights is brought to you by Adelaide Zoo and Illuminate Adelaide with presenting partner SA Power Networks. The event forms part of Illuminate Adelaide, where Flinders University’s new city campus will also be involved in the highly anticipated City Lights trail.

Stomp to the Universal Kingdom: Prehistoric Nights page to snap up your tickets!