Did you know that dinosaurs once roamed in New Zealand?
Considering New Zealand’s status as a country with virtually no dangerous wildlife, it’s tough to imagine that dinosaurs once roamed throughout the land. And it’s not just any dinosaurs either, as there’s evidence that the largest ever of these creatures once lived in New Zealand.
King of the dinosaurs
The Titanosaurid is the largest dinosaur ever known to have lived. The largest of this species was as long as 45 metres, and weighed as much as 45 tonnes. Fossils from this absolutely massive creature have been found in various places around the world, and it’s believed that they thrived between 83 and 65 million years ago.
In 2010, a fossil hunter found evidence that the Titanosaurid once roamed right here in New Zealand. Havelock North resident Dr Joan Wiffen uncovered the fossil after breaking open a rock she found while fossil-hunting in a tributary of the Te Hoe River. After slowly extracting the bone from the rock, she took it to a dinosaur expert from the Queensland Museum in Australia, who confirmed that it was from the massive Titanosaurid.
This shows that, even though it was probably 80 million years ago, the king of all dinosaurs once lived in what is now New Zealand.
New Zealand’s dinosaur hunters
Even though Dr Wiffen didn’t uncover a Titanosaurid bone until 2010, she’s been leading the charge in fossil hunting in New Zealand for years. Dr Wiffen and her group of amateur paleontologist friends discovered the country’s very first fossil back in the late 1970s, which was later identified as a tail bone of a theropod dinosaur by the same expert who would examine the Titanosaurid bone three decades later.
This small but passionate team would eventually uncover six separate species in the Mangahouanga Stream in the Hawke’s Bay, including sauropods and armoured dinosaurs.
One of the most exciting aspects about these finds is that they’re all relatively recent, having occurred within the last 50 years. That means there’s a strong chance that there are countless more fossils waiting to be found throughout the region, and possibly all over the country.
New Zealand’s living dinosaur
While we look at the bones of dinosaurs that once lived in New Zealand, we must not forget our very own living dinosaur – the Tuatara.
Perhaps fortunately, the Tuatara is roughly the size of a large rat (up to 24 cm), so it won’t be a terrifying experience should you ever run into one in the wild. Only found in New Zealand, it’s said that this reptile is a ‘living fossil’, as it’s part of the Order Sphenodontia family that lived approximately 200 million years ago.
This makes the Tuatara one of the world’s oldest species, and one of New Zealand’s most special. Sadly, the Tuatara is quite rare and can usually only be found in wildlife sanctuaries and zoos, where they are kept safe from predators and given a secure environment in which to breed. Through the eradication of pests and the reintroduction of Tuatara on some island sanctuaries, there are a handful of places where Tuatara exist in the wild – but you’d be lucky to spot one!
Tristan Cullen - Passionate Conservationist