Leaellynasaura (meaning “Leaellyn’s lizard”) is a genus of small herbivorous ornithischian dinosaurs from the Albian stage of the Early Cretaceous (dated to between 118 and 110 million years ago), first discovered in Dinosaur Cove, Australia. The only known species is Leaellynasaura amicagraphica. It was described in 1989, and named after Leaellyn Rich, the daughter of the Australian palaeontologist couple Tom Rich and Patricia Vickers-Rich who discovered it. The specific name L. amicagraphica translates to “friend writing” and honours both the Friends of the Museum of Victoria and the National Geographic Society for their support of Australian paleontology.
Leaellynasaura is a relatively small dinosaur, about 90 centimeters (3 feet) in length. It is known from several specimens including two nearly complete skeletons and two fragmentary skulls. It has been variously described as a hypsilophodontid, a primitive iguanodontian and primitive ornithischian (Genasauria). The most recent assessment describes it as a non-iguanodontian ornithopod.
During the early Cretaceous, Victoria was well within the Antarctic polar circle. This means that Leaellynasaura was living, and apparently thriving, at latitudes that no reptile lives at today. The fact that even juveniles had enlarged optic lobes suggests that this dinosaur had large eyes that helped it to see its way through the long, dark polar winters.
The type species is Leaellynasaura amicagraphica. It was described in 1989; It was named after Leaellyn Rich, the daughter of the palaeontologist couple Tom Rich and Patricia Vickers-Rich who discovered it. Leaellynasaura was a hypsilophodont, a rather basal ornithopod. Like all ornithopods, it was a herbivore. So far, no complete skeletons have been found of Leaellynasaura. It stood at about one metre (3 feet).
Leaellynasaura appeared on the fifth episode of Walking with Dinosaurs. Evolved cold-weather Leaellynasaura appeared in Stephen Baxter’s “Evolution” in the chapter “The Last Burrow.”