|MEANING||"Woolungo" reptile (Aboriginal mythology)|
|CLASSIFICATION||Elasmosauridae, Plesiosauroidea, Plesiosauria|
|AGE||Early Cretaceous (Albian) 110 MYA|
|SIZE||8-10 metres (26-33 feet) long|
Woolungosaurus glendowerensis is known from an incomplete skeleton consisting of 46 vertebrae, ribs, fore-paddle and shoulder girdle bones, and partial hind-paddle remains found in Queensland. A further 12 vertebrae from South Australia have also been attributed to Woolungosaurus sp, as well as a crushed but fairly complete skull with associated vertebrae, also from Queensland.
Woolungosaurus is thought to have belonged to the Elasmosauridae family, which is characterised by large plesiosaurs with extremely long necks, often more than 50% of the total body length. The neck of Elasmosaurus platyurus contained 76 vertebrae, a number unsurpassed by any other creature. The skull that is referable to Woolungosaurus sp is typical of most elasmosaurs, with a long slender snout about 46 cm (18 inches) in total length containing around 36 curved teeth in both the upper and the lower jaw. Elasmosaur skulls are rare anywhere in the world, due to their fragile nature, and those that are known are usually badly crushed or distorted.
Elasmosaurs appear to be the most common variety of plesiosaur known from Australia. Elasmosaur-like material has been found in the Late Cretaceous of Western Australia, the Early Cretaceous of the Northern Territory (near Darwin), as well as the material from South Australia and Queensland attributed to Woolungosaurus. Elasmosaur material has also been recovered from Antarctica, bearing similarities to Mauisaurus from New Zealand.
Plesiosaurs in general were among the slowest of the Mesozoic marine reptiles, with their long necks creating a lot of drag which served to reduce their aquadynamic characteristics. The long, relatively inflexible necks of elasmosaurs would have made them slower still. Rather than rely on speed to chase down prey, as ichthyosaurs and pliosaurs seem to have done, they probably ambushed prey from below. In this way they could sneak up on prey by lurking in the darkness of deeper water, and then use their long necks to strike upwards quickly to take prey by surprise. This scenario is supported by the position of the eyes in the skull, which faced slightly upwards.