Global warming? Been there, done that, in Antarctica of all places! The southern continent began freezing over 23 million years ago and has been ice-covered for the last 15 million years. Long, long before the big chill, however, Antarctica was a temperate paradise populated by a wide range of familiar and unfamiliar plants and animals, including dinosaurs.
In 2005 a team from the Museum of Geology at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology found the remains of a 70 million year old baby Plesiosaur on Vega Island, just off the Antarctic Peninsula. Six years later, a fossilized partial skeleton from an earlier, previously unknown species of Plesiosaur was discovered nearby on James Ross Island. The bones were eroding out of the fossil-rich Lachman Crags Member of the Santa Marta Formation by a team from the National Museum of Brazil, led by Alexander Kellner. “If the Loch Ness monster ever existed,” stated Kellner, “this would be its best representation.”
(image via: National Geographic)
Dating back approximately 85 million years, bones from the larger creature’s head, vertebrae and flippers were once part of a long-necked “sea monster” up to 23 feet (7 meters) in length. Although paleontologists believe the Plesiosaur was unique to Antarctic waters, the remains uncovered thus far are too fragmentary for a firm determination on it’s exact species.
Antarctopelta Oliveroi was the first dinosaur to be discovered in Antarctica. Its fossilized remains were found in January 1986 on James Ross Island by Argentine geologists Eduardo Olivero and Roberto Scasso, though due to inhospitable working conditions it would be almost a decade before all of the skeleton’s components were excavated.
(image via: Alain Beneteau)
This ankylosaurid (armored) dinosaur lived in lowland and/or seashore locations in Antarctica during the Late Cretaceous Period, roughly 70 to 74 million years ago. Though the continent was located in the south polar region at that time, Earth’s climate was much warmer than and it’s thought that Antarctopelta Oliveroi enjoyed an ice-free climate amid lush forests of deciduous and evergreen trees.
Cryolophosaurus Ellioti is the first and-based carnivorous dinosaur to be discovered in Antarctica. Dating back 190 million years to the Early Jurassic period, this species lived in an era when Antarctica was located much closer to the equator. The name Cryolophosaurus is derived from the Latin words for Cold, Crest and Lizard with the crest in question being a curious, ridged, bony structure that ran laterally over the tops of their heads. It’s more than likely the crest aided these creatures in finding others of their kind and impressing members of the opposite sex.
(image via: Alain Beneteau)
The spectacular image above, by acclaimed paleontological illustrator Alain Beneteau, shows a pair of male Cryolophosauri boldly confronting each other in a battle over territory. The background scenery reflects the environment scientists believe this species thrived in: highland forests with a cool temperate climate.