Sparkling Opals Found In Australia Turn Out To Be Entirely New Species Of Dinosaur

Lightning Ridge is the only place in the world where dinosaur fossils frequently turn into opal. University of New England

Mike Poben is an Adelaide-based opal dealer so he is used to dealing with precious stones. But in 2013, he stumbled upon a particularly extraordinary find after purchasing a bag of rough opals from some miners in New South Wales, Australia.  

He told National Geographic Australia, there was one unusual piece in the collection that grabbed his attention. It turned out to be the opalized fossil of a fragment of a lower jaw bone. When he checked the bag a second time, he spotted another. 

In 2014, paleontologist Phil Bell discovered that the two fragments formed the lower jaw bone of a dinosaur. And it's not just any old dinosaur. It is a never before seen dinosaur species, now described in a study published in the journal PeerJ for the first time. 

Meet the brilliantly-named Weewarrasaurus pobeni, a reference to the place where it was found (the Wee Wara opal field, close to Australian outback town Lightning Ridge) and the man who found it (Poben). It is the first dinosaur species to be discovered and named in New South Wales in almost a century. 

Despite the fact that the only clue to this dinosaur's existence is a single fossilized jaw bone – albeit a spectacularly jazzy one – paleontologists are able to paint a remarkably detailed picture of this animal's image and lifestyle. We know, for example, that it is a type of dinosaur called an ornithopod, a group that also counts Parasaurolophuses, Iguanodons, and Hadrosaurids among its members.

Ornithopods like W. pobeni are bipedal running grazers. This particular species would have lived during the Cretaceous, been roughly the size of a labrador, and moved in small groups to avoid being attacked. According to Bell, it had a beak and teeth designed for vegetation.

Illustration of a Weewarrasaurus pobeni. Image credit: James Kuether. 
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