|MEANING||Kronos (A Greek titan) reptile|
|CLASSIFICATION||Pliosauridae, Pliosauroidea, Plesiosauria|
|AGE||Early Cretaceous (Aptian/Albian) 110 MYA|
|SIZE||9-10 metres (26-30 feet) long|
The type specimen for Kronosaurus queenslandicus is a mandible (lower jaw) fragment with 6 teeth discovered by Andrew Crombie from Hughendon, Queensland, in 1899. The teeth of this specimen would have been about 25 cm long. In 1929 more of the fossil was discovered, most of which was fragmentary but which included some fragments of each humerus (the bone in the forearm). In 1931/2 an expedition from the Museum of Comparitive Zoology, Harvard University, headed by W.E.Schevill, discovered an almost complete skeleton of Kronosaurus in the Army Downs region of Queensland. It was dynamited out by his assistant, known as "the maniac" for his overzealous use of explosives, and about four tons of rock and fossil was wrapped in bloodied sheep skins and sent back to Harvard.
It took about 25 years for the entire 12.8 metre (42 foot) skeleton to be prepared and mounted, where it is now kept on display at Harvard. It is yet to be fully described, so there is still some doubt that this is the same species as the original mandible fragment. The mounted skeleton has been highly (and imaginatively) reconstructed. Alfred Romer, who helped to create the mounted skeleton at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, probably gave the skeleton too many dorsal vertebrae, hence the length of the mount at 12.8 metres (about 40 feet) is probably too long. Estimates of 8 to 9 metres (26 to 30 feet) based on the remains of more complete close relatives are probably closer to the true length of Kronosaurus. A new nearly complete skull, measuring 2 metres in length, has shown that the original Harvard reconstruction of the head is probably also in error.
In 1992 a large pliosaur found in the Boyaca region of northern Colombia was described by Oliver Hampe of the Frankfurt Museum. The fossils date to the Early Cretaceous (upper Aptian). The new species was named Kronosaurus boyacensis and, based ona fairly complete skeleton, is estimated to have been about 9 metres in length. However the uncertainty surrounding the original Kronosaurus queenslandicus material from Australia means that much more research needs to be done on the genus before being certain of how closely related this new Kronosaurus species was, or whether it deserves to be within the genus at all.
Pliosaurs probably caught their prey using speed, rather than the stealthy approach of slower marine beasts such as plesiosaurs. It was said that the rounded teeth at the back of the jaw of Kronosaurus indicate that it probably preyed on ammonites, large shelled cephalopods something like a modern nautilus. The rounded teeth may have been used to crush the hard shells of the ammonites, with the long pointed snout and sharper teeth towards the front of the jaw being used to capture the prey. However more recent evidence suggests that Kronosaurus also fed on plesiosaurs and turtles, since the remains of these have been found where the stomach cavity of the beast would have been. The skull of the Australian plesiosaur Woolungosaurus is also said to exhibit teeth marks possibly attributable to Kronosaurus. Perhaps Kronosaurus fed on a wide variety of creatures - certainly its size (and those teeth) would have made it one of the top predators in the Mesozoic oceans.
For more information on the facts and fantasies of giant pliosaurs, see Dino-Dispatches No. 1, 11/08/1998
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