Australia’s largest flying reptile has been uncovered, a pterosaur with an estimated seven-meter wingspan that soared like a dragon above the ancient, vast inland sea once covering much of outback Queensland.
University of Queensland PhD candidate Tim Richards led a research team that analyzed a fossil of the creature’s jaw.
“It’s the closest thing we have to a real-life dragon,” Richards said.
“The new pterosaur, which we named Thapunngaka shawi, would have been a fearsome beast, with a spear-like mouth and a wingspan around seven meters.
“It was essentially just a skull with a long neck, bolted on a pair of long wings.
“This thing would have been quite savage. It would have cast a great shadow over some quivering little dinosaurs who wouldn’t have heard them coming until it was too late.”
Richards said the skull alone would have been just over one meter long, containing around 40 teeth, perfectly suited to grasping the large predatory fishes known to inhabit Queensland’s no-longer-existent Eromanga Sea.
The new species belonged to a group of pterosaurs known as anhanguerians, which inhabited every continent during the latter part of the Age of Dinosaurs.
Being perfectly adapted to powered flight, pterosaurs had thin-walled and relatively hollow bones.
Given these adaptations their fossilized remains are rare and often poorly preserved.
“It’s quite amazing fossils of these animals exist at all,” Richards said.
“By world standards, the Australian pterosaur record is poor, but the discovery of Thapunngaka contributes greatly to our understanding of Australian pterosaur diversity.”
It is only the third species of anhanguerian pterosaur known from Australia, with all three species hailing from western Queensland.