“It Wasn’t Built To Eat Broccoli”: Australia’s Largest “Dragon” Revealed | Fossils


With an estimated wingspan of seven meters, 40 razor-sharp teeth, a circular crest under the jaw, and no living relatives, a new species of pterosaur discovered in the Queensland outback is touted as the one Australia ever had a mythical dragon.

The creature believed to have lived 105 million years ago is the largest known flying reptile on the Australian continent and was first described in an article published Monday in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Tim Richards, a University of Queensland graduate student, led a research team at UQ’s Dinosaur Lab at UQ’s School of Biological Sciences to describe the specimen.

Richards said that by comparing a portion of the jawbone to other pterosaur fossils, the researchers were able to estimate the specimen ‘s proportions and determine that it was an entirely new species.

They found that it probably had a three-foot-long skull with a pointed muzzle, relatively long wings, short hind legs and no tail, and was covered with a slight downy layer.

“It wasn’t built to eat broccoli,” said Richards. “That would make flying the magpie seem very trivial. It would have been a terrifying sight. It is only a few meters wingspan shorter than a hang glider.

Thapunngaka Shawis A seven-meter wingspan is only three meters shorter than that of a hang-glider. Photo: Tim Richards / University of Qld

“Its morphology is most likely adapted to a carnivorous lifestyle. Its teeth were probably meant to hold slippery fish in place. “

The animal belonged to a group of pterosaurs known as Appendixuerians who thrived for 200 million years, lived on every continent, and specialized in their environment.

It got the scientific name Thapunngaka shawi – a combination of the Wanamara words for “spear” and “mouth” and the last name of the person who discovered the fossil.

The remains were found in Wanamara Land near Richmond in northwest Queensland in June 2011 by Len Shaw, a city councilor who looked for fossils during his lunch hour by carefully pouring water on the rock face with his front loader to close them identify bones from rock.

When Shaw noticed the maxillary sinuses, he immediately contacted a local museum, Kronosaurus Korner.

Richards said pterosaur fossils are extremely rare in the world because they are so adapted to life in flight that their bones are only millimeters thick, hollow, and extremely fragile.

Tim Richards, University of Queensland researcher, with a model of Thapunngaka Shawi's jaw
University of Queensland researcher Tim Richards with a model of Thapunngaka shawi ‘s jaw. Photo: Anjanette Hudson / The University of Queensland

“Pterosaurs don’t keep well,” said Richards. “Most of these things likely fell into the sea when they died and were devoured by sea predators. Many of them would never have made it to the sea floor to start this fossilization process. “

About 100 million years ago, two-thirds of what is now Queensland was covered by the Eromanga Sea, a shallow body of water that stretched across the border of the Northern Territory down to New South Wales.

Steve Salisbury, co-author of the paper and graduate supervisor of Richards, said the find was particularly significant because pterosaurs – which are different from dinosaurs – became extinct by the end of the Cretaceous Period and had no living relatives.

“There hasn’t been anything like it since they died out. It’s exciting to find new pterosaur fossils because we only know them from fossils, ”said Salisbury.

“They lived next to dinosaurs and are a group of reptiles related to dinosaurs, but they are not dinosaurs. It flies like a bird or a bat, but it’s not one of them. How can you tell how it is? A dragon. A blurry dragon. “

The jawbone of the Pterosaurus
Researchers were able to differentiate Thapunngaka shawi as a new species, although it can only work with the front part of its lower jaw. Photo: University of Queensland

Kailah Thorn, a paleontologist from the University of Western Australia and curator of the Edward de Courcy Clarke Earth Science Museum who was not involved in the study, said this was the third species of pterosaurs named since 2007.

“Finding new pterosaur material in Australia is always exciting,” said Thorn. “Pterosaurs have more fragile, lighter bones that are built to fly and that are less likely to be preserved than dinosaur bones.

“Although the authors only had to work with the deep chin and the front part of the lower jaw of this animal, it is sufficient to distinguish it from the other Australian pterosaurs mentioned and to estimate the comparative extent of this species.”

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