A pterosaur with an estimated seven-meter wingspan has been discovered in Australia, soaring above the old, huge inland sea that once covered most of outback Queensland like a dragon.
Tim Richards, a PhD candidate in the University of Queensland’s School of Biological Sciences’ Dinosaur Lab, led a research crew that studied a fossil of the creature’s jaw unearthed near Richmond in North West Queensland.
Mr. Richards remarked, “It’s the closest thing we have to a real-life dragon.”
“With a spear-like mouth and a wingspan of about seven meters, the new pterosaur, which we called Thapunngaka shawi, would have been a terrifying beast.
“It was basically simply a skull with a long neck and a set of big wings affixed to it.
“This would have been a horrible beast.
“It would have cast a huge shadow on some trembling tiny dinosaur who wouldn’t have seen until it was too late.”
Mr. Richards estimated that the skull alone would have been just over one meter long, with about 40 teeth, making it ideal for grabbing the numerous fishes that once inhabited Queensland’s now-defunct Eromanga Sea.
“It’s easy to believe it swooped like a magpie during mating season, making your local magpie swoop seem insignificant — no zip ties could have rescued you.
“Though it wasn’t a bird or even a bat, Pterosaurs were a successful and diversified group of reptiles — the very first back-boned creatures to attempt powered flight.”
The new species was a member of the anhanguerians, a genus of pterosaurs that lived on every continent during the Age of Dinosaurs.
Pterosaurs possessed thin-walled, hollow bones that were well fitted to powered flight. Their fossilized remains are uncommon and typically poorly preserved due to their adaptations.
Mr Richards remarked, “It’s pretty astonishing that fossils of these animals exist at all.” “The Australian pterosaur record is weak by global standards, but the finding of Thapunngaka adds much to our understanding of pterosaur diversity in Australia.”
It’s just the third species of anhanguerian pterosaur to be discovered in Australia, and all three are found in western Queensland.
The huge size of the bony crest on its lower jaw, which it probably possessed on its top jaw as well, was particularly noticeable about this new species of anhanguerian, according to Dr. Steve Salisbury, a co-author on the study and Mr. Richard’s PhD supervisor.
Dr. Salisbury explained, “These crests definitely had a part in the flight dynamics of these species, and perhaps future study will provide more clear answers.”
Len Shaw, a local fossicker who has been ‘scratching around ‘ in the region for decades, discovered the fossil in a quarry just northwest of Richmond in June 2011.
The new species’ name incorporates phrases from the now-extinct Wanamara Nation language, which commemorates the First Nations peoples of the Richmond area where the fossil was discovered.
“Thapunngaka is derived from the Wanamara terms thapun [ta-boon] and ngaka [nga-ga], which mean ‘spear’ and ‘mouth,’ respectively,” Dr. Salisbury explained.
“The shawi species name honors the fossil’s discoverer, Len Shaw, and means ‘Shaw’s spear mouth.’”
The Thapunngaka shawi fossil is on exhibit at Richmond’s Kronosaurus Korner.
Let us know your opinions in the comments.