The fossil is believed to be from the largest flying reptile ever found in the country, a pterosaur that is said to have hovered over the vast inland sea that once covered much of the outback.
Tim Richard, a doctoral student at the Dinosaur Lab at the University of Queensland, said: “The new pterosaur, which we named ‘Thapunngaka shawi’, would have been a formidable beast, with a spear-shaped mouth and a wingspan of around. seven meters. “
Mr Richard led the research team analyzing a jawbone fossil of the creature found in West Queensland, the northeastern state of Australia, and published the research in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology .
He said, “It’s the closest thing we have to a real dragon. It was essentially a skull with a long neck, bolted to a pair of long wings. This thing would have been pretty wild.
“It would have cast a big shadow on a shivering little dinosaur who wouldn’t have heard it until it was too late,” he added.
Pterosaurs are the winged cousins of dinosaurs. Over 100 species of reptiles have been discovered, ranging from the size of a fighter plane to the size of a sparrow.
Thapunngaka shawi was one of the largest, with his skull alone more than a meter long and filled with about forty teeth designed to grab the fish that inhabited the sea of Eromanga, which no longer exists. .
The new species belonged to a group of pterosaurs known as anhanguerians, which inhabited all continents around 140 to 92 million years ago.
They were perfectly suited for powered flight with thin-walled and relatively hollow bones, but these adaptations mean their fossilized remains are rare and generally poorly preserved.
“It’s pretty amazing that there are fossils of these animals,” said Richards. “By global standards, the Australian pterosaur record is poor, but Thapunngaka’s discovery contributes greatly to our understanding of the diversity of Australian pterosaurs. “
The fossil was found in a quarry just northwest of Richmond, Queensland in June 2011 by a local fossicker called Len Shaw who had been “scratching” in the area for decades.
The name of the species was chosen to honor the First Nations people of the Richmond area where the fossil was found and the now extinct language of the Wanamara Nation.
“The genus name, Thapunngaka, incorporates thapun [ta-boon] and doctor [nga-ga], the words Wanamara for ‘lance’ and ‘mouth’, respectively, ”explained Dr Steve Salisbury, co-author of the article and thesis supervisor of Tim Richard
“The name of the species, Shawi, pays homage to the discoverer of the fossil, Len Shaw, so the name means ‘the mouth of Shaw’s spear’,” he added.