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Kronosaurus queenslandicus:

Ancient Monarch of the Seas

Copyright by Mike Everhart 2001-2009

Last revised 01/30/2009

 

LEFT: This picture shows a preparator (Arnie Lewis) working on the 9 foot long (2.7 m) skull of Kronosaurus queenslandicus at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology.  Note that this is the original "smooth" reconstruction of the back of the skull (circa 1957-58), lacking the parietal crest. Photograph published in the Natural History Magazine, 68:22-23 (January, 1959).

 With almost every fossil discovery, there is a 'rest of the story' to be told. According to local sources in Australia, Kronosaurus was originally discovered by a station owner named Ralph William Haslam Thomas.  The remains were dug up by the Harvard expedition after they were shown where it was on his 20,000 acre property "Army Downs" near Hughenden in central Queensland (Australia). Mr. Thomas apparently had known about a row of vertebrae poking out of the ground for many years prior to the Harvard expedition. He in turn informed the Harvard team of its existence.

When it was finally dug up, it was shipped to the United States in 86 cases weighing approximately 6 tons. The export permit states that the specimen was transported the SS Canadian Constructor about the 1st of December 1932. After preparation, it was mounted as an exhibit in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard.

At 93 years of age, Ralph Thomas finally got to see what he liked to call "his dinosaur" in its reconstructed state when he visited Harvard. On this occasion he was reunited with the expedition leader (also quite old) each of whom had assumed the other to be long dead. The occasion is shown in photos which were published in a Harvard newsletter at the time.

krono4a.jpg (14980 bytes) LEFT: This photo shows the restored skeleton of Kronosaurus queenslandicus (MCZ 1285) on exhibit at Harvard in 1959.  The specimen was said to be about 42 feet in length, although there is some question regarding the addition of a number of dorsal vertebrae.
krono2a.jpg (24980 bytes) LEFT: Shaw Studio photograph, undated.

The following text comes from an article in Natural History Magazine, June 1959, pp. 22-23:

Ancient Monarch of the Seas

"Fossils are a living, or rather, a dead-reminder to the museum visitor that the millstones of evolution "grind exceeding slow." But he may not realize, seeing the finally prepared fossil on display, that museums move rather slowly, too.

If a reminder were needed, Harvard now offers it in a stunning exhibit at the Museum of Comparative Zoology: a complete skeleton of the giant marine lizard, Kronosaurus queenslandicus. Between the day when Kronosaurus sank to the bottom of a Cretaceous ocean and the final installation of his bones at the MCZ, a hundred million years have elapsed.

krono3a.jpg (2822 bytes) The story begins, more precisely, in the Lower Cretaceous, when sediments drifting down to the ocean bottom entombed the creature's bones in limestone. In due course, the sea floor became part of continental Australia and the limestone began to be weathered by wind and water. Through the mantle of rock, bits of Kronosaurus bones began to appear.

These were discovered on a Harvard expedition to Australia in 1931. Dynamite blasted the rock matrix apart; and the surviving blocks - weighing in at a total of nearly five tons were shipped to Cambridge. Here, a reversal of events took place: the reptile was entombed once more, this time in the depths of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, while the slow work of scientific exposure began. The reptile's fossilized bones were freed of the surrounding matrix and, after an acid bath, the ancient creature emerged-twenty-seven years after its arrival in the U.S.

Kronosaurus is one of the group of plesiosaurs, flesh-eating marine reptiles which have no real equivalent today and, in their time, had no exact counterpart on land, either. The plesiosaurs represent one of evolution's about-faces: after life had moved up from sea to land, this group returned to the ocean. Hence the great paddles they had for locomotion, and the long necks which enabled most of these massive mariners to snatch the fish they ate (although Kronosaurus, as it happens, has a short neck, and apparently made up for this by its very long head).

Why these beasts are called "plesiosaurs" i.e., "near reptiles," is something of a puzzle - the plesiosaur was thoroughly reptilian in aspect, and indeed has been described as a "snake, strung through the body of a turtle"- a statement the accuracy of which may be judged from the new exhibit to be seen at Harvard."(Go HERE for a detailed explanation fo this quote)

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Oz-Krono5a.jpg (20441 bytes) LEFT: A full scale, "flesh-on-the-bones" model of Kronosaurus queenslandicus is on display at the Kronosaurus Korner complex, located in the heart of Richmond, a town of 750 people in northeast Queensland, Australia. Richmond is located in what was a large inland sea covered central Australia during the the latter part of the Early Cretaceous, and the fossils found around Richmond are the remains of animals that lived and died in that sea.

The Richmond Marine Fossil Museum was built after the 1989 discovery of the "Richmond Pliosaur" (photo of a cast) at Marathon Station, a property near Richmond. This 100 million-year old pliosaur was recognized by palaeontologists as one of the best preserved examples of a pliosaur anywhere in the world. The actual specimen is currently in the Queensland Museum in Brisbane where it is being studied and described.

The Harvard specimen of Kronosaurus queenslandicus (KQ) was prepared and mounted by "Dinosaur Jim"-  James A. Jensen. Read about how it was done in the web version of his biography by his son, James R. Jensen Jr.: Downloadable PDF file, starting on page 9.

Long (1998, p. 139) notes that Kronosaurus (the Harvard specimen - MCZ 1285) is 12.8 m [42 feet] long as reconstructed.... and that the skull is 2 m long, with some teeth reaching 30 cm in length (total length.... crown length = 12 cm)

Colin McHenry has examined the Harvard reconstruction and notes (11/2008) that "the length of the mandible as displayed is 2.6 metres, and the basal skull length (snout to occiput) is 2.2 m. Bear in mind that the skull was incomplete and the version on display may not bear much similarity to the original skull size in this specimen."


Suggested references on Kronosaurus and other Cretaceous pliosaurs:

Carpenter, K. 1996. A Review of short-necked plesiosaurs from the Cretaceous of the western interior, North America, Neues Jahrbuch fuer Geologie und Palaeontologie Abhandlungen (Stuttgart) 201(2):259-287.

Everhart, M. J. 2007. Historical note on the 1884 discovery of Brachauchenius lucasi (Plesiosauria; Pliosauridae), Kansas. Kansas Academy of Science, Transactions 110(3-4): 255-258.

Kear, B.P. 2003. Cretaceous marine reptiles of Australia: a review of taxonomy and distribution. Cretaceous Research 24 (2003) 277–303.

Long, J.A. 1998. Dinosaurs of Australia and New Zealand and other animals of the Mesozoic Era. University of New South Wales Press, Sydney,188 pp. (Also by Harvard University Press)

Longman, H. A. 1924. Some Queensland fossil vertebrates. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 8:16-28.

Longman, H. A. 1930. Kronosaurus queenslandicus. A gigantic Cretaceous pliosaur. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 10: 1-7.

Longman, H. A. 1932. Restoration of Kronosaurus queenslandicus. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 10:98.

Romer, A. S. and A. D. Lewis. 1959. A mounted skeleton of the giant plesiosaur Kronosaurus. Breviora 112:1-15.

Schumacher, B.A. 2008. On the skull of a pliosaur (Plesiosauria; Pliosauridae) from the Upper Cretaceous (Early Turonian) of the North American Western Interior. Kansas Academy of Science, Transactions 111(3-4):203-218.

Schumacher, B. A. and M. J. Everhart. 2005. A stratigraphic and taxonomic review of plesiosaurs from the old Fort Benton Group of central Kansas: A new assessment of old records. Paludicola 5(2):33-54.

White, T. E. 1935. On the skull of Kronosaurus queenslandicus Longman. Occasional Papers of the Boston Society of Natural History 8: 219-228.

White, T. E. 1940. Holotype of Plesiosaurus longirostris Blake and classification of the plesiosaurs. Journal of Paleontology 14: 451-467.

Williston, S. W. 1907. The skull of Brachauchenius, with special observations on the relationships of the plesiosaurs. United States National Museum Proceedings 32:477-489. pls. 34-37.


LINKS:

Mesozoic Monsters of the Mangahouanga (New Zealand)

Something about pliosaurs

Kansas Plesiosaurs (including pliosaurs)

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