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Umoonasaurus demoscyllus (AKA "Eric")
Kear, Schroeder & Lee 2006


MEANINGCoober Pedy Reptile
CLASSIFICATIONRhomaleosauridae, Pliosauroidea, Plesiosauria
AGEEarly Cretaceous, 115 MYA
LOCATIONCoober Pedy, South Australia
SIZE2 metres (7 feet) long

"Eric" was found in 1987 in the opal fields of Coober Pedy in South Australia. The opalised skeleton may have been fairly complete, however the opal miner, Mr.J.Vida, tried to excavate the fossil himself. In the process some of the smaller bones may have been lost, such as the ends of the flippers and most of the neck that were found to be missing once the fragmentary skeleton was prepared. Let this serve as a cautionary tale: if you find a fossil of any kind do not attempt to dig it up yourself. You risk doing severe damage to the fossils, making them worthless to scientists and fossil dealers alike. Often the context in which the fossil is lying is just as important as the material itself.

Eric was nicknamed by Paul Willis, the person who prepared and reconstructed the skeleton, after the Monty Python "Eric the half-bee" sketch. The opalised fish bones (from a teleost) found in Eric's stomach became known as Wanda. Gastroliths were also preserved inside the abdominal cavity.

Umoonasaurus was a late-surviving rhomaleosaurid, and an unusual one at that. More advanced rhomaleosaurids from the Jurassic period were typified by large heads, short necks, and large size. Umoonasaurus on the other hand is small, with a long neck and a small head, and retained many primitive rhomaleosaurid characteristics despite living much later than most others in that pliosaur family. Australia was (and still is) a place where many primitive creatures lived (and still live) well after they became extinct in other parts of the world.

In 1993 there were rumours that Eric was to be sold overseas. To keep it in Australia the science program "Quantum", in association with the Australian Museum in Sydney, asked for public donations. Around 30,000 people (including myself) responded, raising $450,000 Australian. Eric's opal content alone was estimated at $25,000 AU. The unprepared and fragmented skeleton was initially bought by a developer for $125,000. The "Quantum" appeal money bought the skeleton for $320,000 when the developer went bankrupt, with the rest of the money raised put into a fund for future purchases.

Kear, B.P., N.I.Schroeder, & M.S.Y. Lee 2006 "An archaic crested plesiosaur in opal from the Lower Cretaceous high-latitude deposits of Australia" Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biology Letters
(online abstract)

(Thanks to Paul Willis and Darren Naish for additional information)

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