New Species Of 100-Million-Year-Old Pterosaur Is The Most Complete Ever Found In Australia

New Species Of 100-Million-Year-Old Pterosaur Is The Most Complete Ever Found In Australia

One hundred million years ago, a fierce predator soared over the waters of what we now know as Queensland, Australia, using its formidable jaws to scoop up fish and cephalopods. The new-to-science species has now been described following the retrieval of a fossil from dig pits outside of Richmond, which represents the most complete pterosaur discovered in Australia to date.

“The fossil was discovered by Kronosaurus Korner museum curator Kevin Petersen in November 2021 whilst checking on another fossil specimen,” lead author Adele Pentland told IFLScience. “He spotted bone exposed at the surface and knew straight away that it was a pterosaur, because the bone resembled a crushed eggshell.” 

Anyone who visits has a good chance of finding a fossil if they know what to look for.

Adele Pentland

They were able to retrieve the specimen in a plaster jacket that measured 2.4 by 1.5 meters (7.9 by 5 feet). It was then whittled down with the aid of an air scribe and metal pin, revealing a prehistoric creature that would’ve had a wingspan of around 4.6 meters (15 feet).

The pterosaur is a new genus and species, but we do know it was an anhanguerian pterosaur – a group of flying reptiles that lived during the Cretaceous – based on its skull, teeth, and the shape of its shoulder bone. It’s been named Haliskia peterseni from the Ancient Greek for “sea phantom” and in honor of Petersen, who discovered and prepared the specimen. In the paper, the authors describe it as “a flying creature that cast a shadow on the sea, or a phantom that haunted the long-vanished Eromanga Sea.”

Lead Author Adele Pentland studying Haliskia peterseni

Lead Author Adele Pentland studying Haliskia peterseni, which had a wingspan of 4.6 meters.

Image credit: Curtin University

The remarkable discovery is notable not just for the creature’s completeness and size, but also in that it was made in a place where just about anybody has the opportunity to stumble across prehistoric treasure.

“What I find most exciting is that this fossil was found near a fossil site that is open to the public – which means that the next pterosaur fossil might be found by a visitor to the region,” continued Pentland. “The dig pits outside of Richmond are unlike anything I’ve seen in Australia, they’re incredibly fossil rich and anyone who visits has a good chance of finding a fossil if they know what to look for and cover enough ground.”

The specimen comes 22 percent complete with lower jaws, tip of the upper jaw, 43 teeth, some vertebrae, ribs, and bones from both wings and part of a leg. There’s also evidence that it had a very muscular tongue, which would’ve come in handy for slurping up its prey of fish and cephalopods

The sea phantom is now on display for anyone who’d like to check out Australia’s most complete pterosaur, meanwhile Pentland and the team are headed back out into the field.

“I’m deeply passionate about working with Kronosaurus Korner, and other museums in central western Queensland, including the Australian Age of Dinosaurs. Since the new Haliskia fossil is already on public display at Kronosaurus Korner, the next phase of my research is to assist on a dinosaur dig in August, and describe more exciting fossil specimens before I finish my PhD at the end of next year,” Pentland said.

The study is published in Scientific Reports.

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