Dragon-like pterosaur discovered in Australia

Dragon-like pterosaur discovered in Australia

About 105 million years ago, in the skies of what is now modern Australia, a creature hovered that, according to University of Queensland paleontologist Tim Richards, may be the closest thing to a real dragon in the flesh. and bones. According to a study published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, this pterosaur, the last member discovered belonging to this extinct flying reptile clade, would be the largest winged creature to ever sail the Australian skies.

Beyond at a wingspan roughly the full length of a school bus, this "flying dragon" possessed a meter-long skull with a pointed snout and roughly 40 extremely sharp teeth. This pterosaur, in all probability, lived by feeding on fish in the Eromanga Inland Sea region, a large inland sea which, during the early Cretaceous period, occupied much of present-day eastern Australia.

Although the fossil is found in northwestern Queensland over a decade ago, researchers have not been able to prove that it was indeed a new species until now. There have been over 200 species of pterosaur cataloged so far, ranging from the gigantic Quetzalcoatlus, more than four meters high, to the tiny Anurognathus, the size of a sparrow. Unlike the feathered birds with which they shared the sky already at the time, pterosaurs had wings formed by a membrane stretched between the fingers, specially developed.

The University of Queensland team that made the discovery deduced the size of the reptile and the unique characteristics of the new species starting from the jaw. The new pterosaur was named Thapunngaka Shaw i, using words from the now extinct language of the Wanamara Nation, one of Australia's oldest indigenous groups. The name of the animal could be literally translated as "Spear Mouth", a very fitting name for this flying predator.

Steve Salisbury, also a paleontologist at the University of Queensland, he explained to the press that important finds of pterosaur fossils are very rare. This would be due to the extreme fragility and lightness of the skeletal part of these animals adapted to flight, which made the fossilization process difficult. Salisbury continues by describing one of the most interesting aspects of the Thapunngaka Shawi fossil, namely the presence of bony ridges on the animal's lower and upper jaws. These crests may have played a very specific role in the flight dynamics of these creatures, and are currently the subject of further studies, in the hope of shedding more light on their function soon.

If the discovery intrigued you, e if you want to know more about pterosaurs, we recommend Pterosaurs: Natural History, Evolution, Anatomy, by Mark P. Witton, available for purchase at this link.

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