Australia’s largest flying reptile even known – a has pterosaur believed to have a wingspan of around seven metres – has been discovered. According to University of Queensland researchers this ‘fearsome dragon’ roamed around vast inland sea once covering much of outback Queensland.
Researchers analysed a fossil of the creature’s jaw, discovered on Wanamara Country, near Richmond in North West Queensland and according to them it is the closest thing they have seen to a real life dragon. The new pterosaur has been named Thapunngaka shawi.
Scientists believe that the new reptile would have been a fearsome beast, with a spear-like mouth and a wingspan around seven metres. The skull alone would have been just over one metre long, containing around 40 teeth, perfectly suited to grasping the many 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 fossilised remains are rare and often poorly preserved.
It is only the third species of anhanguerian pterosaur known from Australia, with all three species hailing from western Queensland.
The fossil was found in a quarry just northwest of Richmond in June 2011 by Len Shaw, a local fossicker who has been ‘scratching around’ in the area for decades.
The name of the new species honours the First Nations peoples of the Richmond area where the fossil was found, incorporating words from the now-extinct language of the Wanamara Nation.
The fossil of Thapunngaka shawi is on display at Kronosaurus Korner in Richmond.
The research has been published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology (DOI: 10.1080/02724634.2021.1946068).