Qantassaurus intrepidus, named after the Australian airline Qantas, was a small ornithopod from the Early Cretaceous of Victoria. The herbivorous Qantassaurus is known only from its unusually short, deep lower jaws with just ten cheekteeth. Qantassaurus was part of a diverse assemblage of small Australian ornithopods that might have been part of the Australian dinosaur fauna since the Jurassic.
Qantassaurus intrepidus was a small ornithopod, known only from lower jaws and teeth. Contrary to some accounts, no other cranial or postcranial fossils of Qantassaurus have been found. We therefore don't know the size of its orbits, the length of its limbs or its tail type, although we can make an educated guess based on the general characteristics of other small ornithopods. Since long bones of Qantassaurus are not yet known, we have no information on its yearly growth pattern. However, some long bones of other small Victorian ornithopod species show an absence of LAGs (Lines of Arrested Growth), suggesting that these animals were active year-round (and arguably warm-blooded).
Qantassaurus was unique in that it had an unusually short lower jaw. Diagnostic features of Qantassaurus are as follows: the dentary is short with dorsal and ventral margins converging towards the front of the jaw, and there are just ten teeth in the cheek region (other small ornithopods have a greater number of 'cheek' teeth and longer, narrower jaws). The teeth of Qantassaurus are almost impossible to distinguish from those of another small Victorian ornithopod, Atlascopcosaurus loadsi (possibly a nomen dubium) although the jaw of Atlascopcosaurus is long, as in other ornithopods. Similarities to the teeth of Gasparinasaura from the Late Cretaceous of Argentina have also been noted. The jaw form and teeth of Qantassaurus are unlike those of Leaellynasaura amicagraphica, the smallest of the Victorian ornithopods. The maxillary teeth of Qantassaurus and Atlascopcosaurus both have at least eight ridges developed on unworn teeth, with a prominent primary ridge; Leaellynasaura has only five ridges on its 'cheek' teeth, and a prominent primary ridge is absent.
Southern Victoria during the Early Cretaceous was a rift valley formed between Australia and Antarctica as the two continents slowly split apart. Braided streams and rivers formed extensive floodplains. Large fossilized logs found along the southern Victorian coast suggest nearby forests of araucarian conifers and podocarps. Deciduous ginkgoes were also important forest trees. The understorey would have included pentoxylaeans, ferns, bryophytes and mosses, and horsetails and reeds would have lined the streambanks.
Victoria lay south of the palaeo-Antarctic Circle in the Cretaceous and, although the global climate was much warmer than it is today, the area would have experienced the extremes of daylight typical of polar regions. Evidence for rafting ice in the inland Eromanga Sea and studies of cryoturbation structures (deformations in sediments caused by the seasonal freezing and thawing of soils) suggest that the climate may at times have been quite cold, with winter ice and seasonally frozen ground. However, the presence of lungfish and crocodilians, now known only from warmer regions, suggests a generally milder climate.
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Qantassaurus intrepidus is known only from the Flat Rocks fossil site near Inverloch (Strzelecki Ranges) on the southern Victorian coast about 150 km south-east of Melbourne.
Feeding and diet
Qantassaurus was a small herbivore that would have eaten edible small, low-growing Early Cretaceous plants such as ferns and horsetails.
Other behaviours and adaptations
Small ornithopods were remarkably common and diverse in Cretaceous Australia, particularly in southern Victoria, and may have travelled in small herds or flocks. Dinosaur burrows, possibly those of small ornithopods, were recently discovered along the southern Victorian coast. Perhaps Qantassaurus and other small ornithopods spent the colder months of the year underground.
The holotype of Qantassaurus is a complete left dentary (NMV P199075) with teeth preserved in seven out of ten alveolar sockets. It was found at the Flat Rocks site (Wonthaggi Formation, Strzelecki Group) near Inverloch, Victoria. Referred specimens include two other isolated dentaries: NMV P198962 (a complete left dentary with four teeth and all alveoli preserved); and NMV P199087 (a fragmentary right dentary). Fossil material of Qantassaurus is held by Museum Victoria in Melbourne, Australia.
There are perhaps as many as six different types of small ornithopods in Early Cretaceous Australia, all of which are known only from isolated fossil remains. Determining evolutionary and intergroup relationships has therefore been quite difficult. The Victorian ornithopods were first put into Hypsilophodontidae because of similarities in skull and tooth structure to the European hypsilophodontids. ‘Hysilophodontidae’, however, is now thought to be a ‘grab bag’ of unrelated species, and is currently under revision.
The status of Qantassaurus (along with that of Fulgurotherium, Leaellynasaura and Atlascopcosaurus) is currently under review. Although some palaeontologists consider these to be valid species - in spite of being based on fragmentary material - others think there is insufficient diagnostic fossil material to call these valid, distinct species. This account treats Qantassaurus as a valid species until the relationships of small Australian ornithopods are reviewed.
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