Meet an ancient Australian carnivore

Best known for its deadly claws, Australovenator was a fast and fearsome predator in Australia's Cretaceous landscape.

If you’ve visited Gandel Gondwana Garden you will have seen Australovenator in hot pursuit of its prey, Leaellynasaura. Palaeoartist Beth Zaiken has brought this scene to life with the help of Museums Victoria’s experts.

Explore the illustration below to find out more about these creatures, and the science behind the recreation of Victoria’s past.

Artist's representation of Australovenator in pursuit of a pair of Leaellynasaura. Artist: Beth Zaiken

Otway Claw

The discovery of this fossilised claw in sandstone off Victoria’s coast was the beginning of a mystery for palaeontologists. Who did it belong to? After dating the claw to the Early Cretaceous they were able to confirm it belonged to a theropod, most likely Australovenator. This single discovery changed our understanding of when and where Australovenator lived.

A fossilsed claw
The claw was found at Cape Otway, Victoria in 2014 by John Wilkins during fieldwork by a Museum Victoria-led team of researchers and volunteers.


Australovenator was a fast and agile hunter, and an apex predator just like the famed Tyrannosaurs rex. But unlike T. rex, Australovenator has smaller teeth relative to its size, larger arms and claws. It was a chase predator well adapted to pursuing and capturing agile prey.

Image of a <em>Tyrannosaurus rex</em>
Reconstruction of the carnivorous theropod dinosaur Tyrannosaurus rex. Artist: Rebecca Dart


Our artist has shown Leaellynasaura with feathers that resemble its much older relative, the Russian dinosaur, Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus. When fossilised bones of Kulindadromeus were found surrounded by a halo of delicate feathers, it led scientists to believe that feathers may have been common to all dinosaurs, not just theropods.

Drawing showing the feathers of a small dinosaur
Kulindadromeus was a plant eating dinosaur about 1.5 metres high. Artist: Tom Parker, Source: Wikimedia


Leaellynasaura has the longest tail relative to body size of any dinosaur yet discovered. We’re not sure why it has such a long tail, but we know that some living lizards’ long tails can distract predators by drawing attention from more vulnerable parts of the body.

Model of a lizard with a long tail
Model of a lizard, the Orange-tailed Finesnout Ctenotus


How do we know what colour these dinosaurs were? Palaeoartists consider how and where an animal lived then study similar, modern animals to draw conclusions about how extinct creatures might have looked. We don’t know exactly what colour Leaellynasaura was in life, but our artist has taken inspiration from the Superb Lyrebird. You can see this reflected in traits like the showy tail, ground dwelling lifestyle and temperate forest habitat.

A lyrebird in the wild
The Superb Lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae) is found in the forests of southeastern Australia. Image: Brian Ralphs, Source: Flickr


The rocks that have preserved this period of Victoria’s past were laid down in billabongs, floodplains and river bottoms. The illustration reflects what we know about this time, when an ancient rift valley connected Australia to Antarctica.

A Leaellynasaura fossil in a rock
This fossil of Leaellynasaura was found in rocks formed from sediments deposited in the rivers of the rift valley.

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