A study on these results published Monday in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
The pterosaur likely hovered over a large inland sea that once covered much of the Queensland hinterland, known as the Eromanga Inland Sea. Its spear-shaped mouth was perfect for picking fish from the sea.
Researchers including Tim Richards, a postdoctoral student at the University of Queensland at the Dinosaur Lab at the School of Biological Sciences, analyzed a jawbone fossil of the pterosaur. It was originally discovered in a quarry just northwest of Richmond in northwest Queensland in June 2011 by fossicker Len Shaw. The Fossickers hunt for gold and fossils.
Richards said the pterosaur would have been a “scary beast” that likely munched on juvenile dinosaurs.
The name of the new species, Thapunngaka shawi, is a nod to the First Nations people of the Richmond area where the fossil was found and includes part of the lost language of the Wanamara Nation.
“The genus name, Thapunngaka, incorporates thapun [ta-boon] and doctor [nga-ga], the Wanamara words for ‘spear’ and ‘mouth’, respectively, ”Steve Salisbury, study co-author and senior lecturer at the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Queensland, said in a statement. “The name of the species, shawi, honors the discoverer of the fossil. Len Shaw, so the name means ‘the mouth of Shaw’s spear’. ”
Researchers were intrigued by a massive bony ridge located on the lower jaw of the new species and believe there was probably one on the upper jaw as well.
“Semicircular in shape, it would have looked like a half-plate (13cm radius) on the side,” said Richards.
“These ridges probably played a role in the flight dynamics of these creatures, and I hope future research will provide more definitive answers,” Salisbury said.
The entire skull was probably over 3.2 feet (1 meter) long and contained 40 teeth. The newly discovered species was part of a group of pterosaurs named anhanguerians. These pterosaurs once flew over all continents.
“Pterosaurs were a thriving and diverse group of reptiles – the very first bone-backed animals to attempt powered flight,” said Richards.
Their thin-walled bones were largely hollow, meaning that pterosaurs were perfectly adapted to flight, but their bones did not survive well in the fossil record.
“It’s pretty amazing that there are fossils of these animals,” Richards said. “By global standards, the Australian pterosaur record is poor, but Thapunngaka’s discovery contributes greatly to our understanding of the diversity of Australian pterosaurs. “
Richards plans to study the specific characteristics of pterosaur flight dynamics.
This discovery marks the third species of Anhanguerian pterosaur to be found in Australia. All were recovered in West Queensland. The fossil is on display at the Kronosaurus Korner Museum in Richmond.