A pterosaur with a seven-meter wingspan has been discovered that soared like a dragon over the vast inland sea that once covered much of Australia’s inland Queensland.
PhD candidate Tim Richards of the University of Queensland Dinosaur Laboratory led a research team that analyzed a fossil jaw of this Cretaceous creature, discovered in northwestern Queensland.
“It’s the closest thing we have to a real-life dragon,” Richards said in a statement. “The new pterosaur, which we call Thapunngaka shawi, would have been a fearsome beast, with a spear-shaped mouth and a wingspan of about twenty feet . It was essentially just a skull with a long neck, screwed onto a pair of long wings. This thing would have been pretty wild. “
“It would have cast a big shadow over some little trembling dinosaurs who wouldn’t have heard it coming until it was too late . ” Richards said the skull alone would have been just over a meter long, containing around 40 teeth, perfectly suited for catching the large predatory fish known to inhabit the nonexistent Eromanga Sea of Queensland.
“Although pterosaurs could fly, they were nothing like birds, not even bats,” he said. “Pterosaurs were a diverse and successful group of reptiles, the first animals with back bones to attempt powered flight.”
The new species belonged to a group of pterosaurs known as Anhanguerians, which inhabited all continents during the latter part of the Age of Dinosaurs.
Being perfectly adapted to motorized flight, pterosaurs had thin-walled and relatively hollow bones. Given these adaptations, their fossilized remains are rare and often poorly preserved.
“It is quite surprising that fossils of these animals exist,” Richards said. “By world standards, the Australian pterosaur record is poor, but the Thapunngaka discovery contributes greatly to our understanding of Australian pterosaur diversity.”
It is only the third known Anhanguerian pterosaur species in Australia, with all three species hailing from western Queensland.
Dr. Steve Salisbury, co-author of the paper and Richard’s PhD supervisor, said that what was particularly surprising about this new species of Anhanguerian was the massive size of the bony ridge on its lower jaw, which it presumably also had on its upper jaw. .
“These ridges likely played a role in the flight dynamics of these creatures, and hopefully future research will provide more definitive answers,” Salisbury said.
The fossil was found in a quarry northwest of Richmond in June 2011 by Len Shaw, a local fossil hunter who has been “digging” in the area for decades.
The new species name honors the First Nations peoples of the Richmond area where the fossil was found, incorporating words from the now-extinct language of the Wanamara nation.
“The genus name, Thapunngaka, incorporates thapun [ta-boon] and ngaka [nga-ga], the Wanamara words for ‘spear’ and ‘mouth’, respectively,” Salisbury said.
“The species name, shawi, honors the discoverer of the fossil Len Shaw, which is why the name means ‘mouth of Shaw’s spear.’ The Thapunngaka shawi fossil is on display at the Kronosaurus Korner in Richmond.