Leaellynasaura (named after Leaellyn Rich, the daughter of the Australian paleontologist couple Tom Rich and Patricia Vickers-Rich who discovered it) was a small, meter long ornithopod dinosaur, which had supposedly adapted to extreme climates, from Antarctica, Australia and South America in the Early Cretaceous time period (106 MYA). Back then, these three continents were still combined into one mega-continent and were further to the north, away from the South Pole. But this mega-continent was already experiencing very long periods of winter time without sunlight.
Portrayal in the Series
Throughout winter they survived in the warm, sheltered heart of thick forests. In spring, they emerged to feed on the fresh plant growth. Their most distinctive feature was their large eyes, which helped them find food in the dark winter. These dinosaurs were sociable little animals that lived in small clans, enabling them to make the most of scarce resources. Clans were dominated by one breeding pair and the hierarchy ensures that a Leaellynasaura was always on lookout duty. It regularly issued reassuring clicks as long as the cost was clear.
When spring took hold, for them it was a time of feverish activity. When males fought for dominance in mating season, these fights were short, but also vicious.
They mated within the spring's first sunrise and then they built nests. It was a team effort, with the dominant pair building in the center…and other subordinate animals working around them. Many of these piles of leaves never held eggs, but acted as decoys to help protect the main nest. But no matter how busy these little dinosaurs were, they always have to remain alert to danger. Their nests needed to be constantly checked. They removed and added leaves to keep the eggs at a range of 30 degrees centigrade.
The nests also had to be protected around the clock. When it came to hatchlings, the mother Leaellynasaura removed old egg shells and ate the unhatched eggs. These dinosaurs also learned one adaptation to the cold. As the group, the huddled together and drift into a state of torpor. In this suspended animation their bodies could resist the effects of the cold. But they could not stay like that for more than a couple of days.
When males fought for dominance in mating season, these fights, while short, could be vicious. If one of the chiefs of the clans were to die, for example being preyed upon by a hungry Austrolovenator, there might have been tensions.
Anatomy and Behavior
Leaellynasauras were shown as biped ornithopod dinosaurs with big eyes. The eyes helped them see in the dark of the polar nights. Some family members watched out for predators, and called out loudly if one was seen, allowing the dinosaurs to flee. In the series, these dinosaurs were shown possessing a partial ability to hibernate, but now this theory was proven incorrect.
In the Series
A small family clan was featured in the episode. They had to make it through attacks by the Australovenator and survive the polar winter before reaping the fruits of their labor during the polar summer.
- Leaellynasaura, as mentioned earlier, didn't hibernate.
- Leaellynasaura's tail is now known to have took up 3/4 of the total body length.