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Australia's Newest Armored Dinosaur Had Parrot Beak and Turtle Ears, Researchers Say

Dec 11, 2015 10:59 AM EST

Kunbarrasaurus, Australia's newest armored dinosaur, was the size of a sheep and possesed a parrot-like beak, turtle-like ears turtle and crocodile-like skin – a mixture of animal characteristics that makes it truly unique from other dinosaurs. 

Kunbarrasaurus' skeleton was originally discovered back in 1989, when scientists initially classified the fossils under the species of ankylosaurus due to its its four-legged body, herbivorous nature and close association with stegosaurs. However, following a study that began in 2007, researches from the University of Queensland (UQ) found distinct characteristics that warranted renaming the dinosaur, according to a news release.

"When it was first studied back in the 1990s, the fossil was placed it in the same genus as Australia's only other named ankylosaur, Minmi, which is based on some bones from Roma in south-western Queensland," Lucy Leahey, one of the study researchers and a Ph.D. student in the UQ School of Biological Sciences, explained in the release.

Recently, however, the new species was given the name Kunbarrasaurus ieversi, in which "kunbarra" means "shield" in the Mayi language of Australian aboriginals and "ieversi" represents the original discoverer of the fossil, Ian Ievers.

When their study began in 2007, researchers performed a CT scan of the fossils at Mater Adult Hospital and create a 3D reconstruction of the dinosaur's brain, inner ear and nasal cavities.

"The CT reconstruction revealed that Kunbarrasaurus had a more complicated airway than other dinosaurs, but less so than ankylosaurs from the Northern Hemisphere," Professor Lawrence Witmer, one of the study researchers from Ohio University's Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine that helped with the 3D reconstruction, added. "The inner ear is proportionately enormous and unlike anything we have seen before in a dinosaur. It looks more like the inner ear of a Tuatara or a turtle. Exactly what the consequences of this are we are still unsure."

Additionally, the 3D reconstruction revealed the species had a parrot-like beak, which it used to breathe through a nasal passage that looped back on itself, researchers say. 

"Our work has also revealed that Kunbarrasaurus is more primitive than the majority of other well-known ankylosaurs from North America and Asia," UQ's Dr. Steve Salisbury concluded. "It appears to represent an early, less heavily 'armored' member of the group, close to the point at which the ankylosaurs diverged from the other main lineage of armored dinosaurs, the stegosaurs."

Their findings were recently published in the journal PeerJ

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