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Atlascopcosaurus

AT - las - KOP - koh - SAW - rus

Ornithopoda/Hypsilophodontidae
Copyright 2007

Field Notes

Name Means: "Atlas Copco lizard"
Length: 9 feet (2.7 m)
Diet: Herbivore (Plant-Eater)
Time: Early Cretaceous
Location: Victoria, Australia

Atlascopcosaurus was one of several small hypsilophodontid dinosaurs that lived in south-eastern Australia during the early Cretaceous, at a time when the rift between Australia and Antarctica was just beginning to open. This dinosaur was named for the company that provided rock drills and compressors for the Dinosaur Cove digs in Victoria in the late 1980s. Dr. Tom Rich and Dr. Patricia Vickers-Rich, who conducted these digs, described Atlascopcosaurus in 1989.

Like other hypsilophodontids, Atlascopcosaurus was an agile bipedal plant-eater. It played an ecological role similar to that of forest antelopes or wallabies in the modern world. Its upper teeth were similar to those of Zephyrosaurus, from Montana, USA, but the primary ridge on each of Atlascopcosaurus's teeth was more strongly developed. Zephyrosaurus was also somewhat smaller. Atlascopcosaurus used its high-crowned, many-ridged teeth for browsing on the tough ferns and horsetails that formed the understory of the forests along the rift valley.

Like its slightly smaller relatives Leaellynasaura, Fulgurotherium, and Qantasssaurus, Atlascopcosaurus probably lived in family groups or small herds, moving between resting places in deep thickets and open clearings, where it fed on new plant growth. With its long legs and almost hooflike hind claws, this dinosaur could outrun most of its potential predators.

An articulated partial skeleton thought to be that of Atlascopcosaurus is remarkable because the left tibia (shin bone) shows severe pathology-evedence that the animal suffered from chronic osteomyelitis for the last few years of its life. The fact that a crippled animal was able to survive for several years suggests that Atlascopcosaurus was not always under intense pressure from predators, and also that it probably did not need to undertake long migrations to avoid the harsh polar winters.

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