Australian Researchers Find New Species of Flying Prehistoric Reptile

Australian Researchers Find New Species of Flying Prehistoric Reptile
Photo Credit: Corbis / TPG Images

What you need to know

New species of a flying prehistoric reptile found. They say it's the “closest thing we have to a real-life dragon.”

By Phil Mercer

SYDNEY - Australian paleontologists have discovered a new species of a prehistoric flying reptile in outback Queensland. The pterosaur, named Thapunngaka shawi, is the largest of its kind ever found in Australia, and dates back 100 million years.

Researchers have said the pterosaur, a type of flying reptile, was the “closest thing we have to a real-life dragon.”

With a spearlike mouth and a wingspan estimated at 7 meters, they have said it would have “soared like a dragon” above the vast inland sea that once covered much of outback Queensland.

Paleontologists have said it was perfectly adapted to flight, with relatively hollow, air-filled bones. Pterosaur remains are rare and often poorly preserved.

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Photo Credit:  AP / TPG Images
Discovering new species is more common than you think. Discovered in the United States in 2013, this new species of the carnivorous allosaurus is nine meters long and two meters high (estimated between $1.4 million and $2.1 million). The skeleton was transported in crates and reassembled on a stainless steel structure.

So, the discovery of a fossil of the creature’s jaw in a quarry in 2011 by a local fossicker is significant. For several years, it was left in a museum display cabinet before being analyzed by a University of Queensland team.

Tim Richards, a researcher at the university’s Dinosaur Lab, says it would have been a savage prehistoric predator.

“What we are able to do with the jawbone was compare it to closely related pterosaurs that are complete, and essentially just extrapolate from there,” he said. “So, we know that the jawbone that we are looking at is quite large compared to closely related pterosaurs. We assume obviously, and it is speculation, that the size of our pterosaur would have been roughly around about a 7-meter wingspan. The skull would have probably been about a meter long.”

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.

The name of the new species — Thapunngaka shawi — recognizes the Indigenous peoples of the Richmond area where the fossil was found, using words from the now-extinct language of the Wanamara Nation in Queensland.

The pterosaur has been described for the first time in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Pterosaurs were flying reptiles but were not classified as dinosaurs, although they lived at the same time.

Fossils have shown that Australia had a diverse range of dinosaurs that lived from about 65 million to 250 million years ago. 

The News Lens has been authorized to publish this article from Voice of America.

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