Experts in Australia have announced a new species of flying reptile, and they say the fearsome pterosaur would have spent its life hunting over Queensland’s no-longer existent Eromanga Sea
Image: The University of Queensland)
Researchers say a fossil found in Australia is the closest thing discovered to replicate a real-life dragon.
The remains are understood to come from the largest flying reptile ever uncovered in the country.
With a spear-like mouth and a seven-metre wingspan, the “savage” creature was discovered in the outback.
The pterosaur would have soared over the vast sea, picking off small dinosaurs and fish as it flew over Queensland’s no-longer-existent Eromanga Sea.
Its skull alone would have been just over one metre long and it would have containing around 40 teeth, experts say.
The fossil was found on Wanamara Country, near Richmond in North West Queensland.
University of Queensland PhD candidate Tim Richards led a research team that analysed the creature’s jaw.
Mr Richards, from the Dinosaur Lab in UQ’s School of Biological Sciences, said: “It’s the closest thing we have to a real-life dragon.
“The new pterosaur, which we named Thapunngaka shawi, would have been a fearsome beast, with a spear-like mouth and a wingspan around seven metres.
“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 dinosaur that wouldn’t have heard it until it was too late.”
He added: “It’s tempting to think it may have swooped like a magpie during mating season, making your local magpie swoop look pretty trivial – no amount of zip ties would have saved you.
“Though, to be clear, it was nothing like a bird, or even a bat – Pterosaurs were a successful and diverse group of reptiles – the very first back-boned animals to take a stab at powered flight.”
It is only the third species of anhanguerian pterosaur known from Australia, with all three species hailing from western Queensland.
“It’s quite amazing fossils of these animals exist at all,” Mr Richards added.
“By world standards, the Australian pterosaur record is poor, but the discovery of Thapunngaka contributes greatly to our understanding of Australian pterosaur diversity.”
Dr Steve Salisbury, co-author on the paper and Mr Richard’s PhD supervisor, said: “The crests probably played a role in the flight dynamics of these creatures, and hopefully future research will deliver more definitive answers.
“The genus name, Thapunngaka , incorporates thapun [ta-boon] and ngaka [nga-ga], the Wanamara words for ‘spear’ and ‘mouth’, respectively.
“The species name, shawi , honours the fossil’s discoverer Len Shaw, so the name means ‘Shaw’s spear mouth’.”