Last updated October 8, 2019 at 11:23 am
A newly described species suggests that Aussie pterosaurs might have lived longer than we thought.
Why This Matters: Australia’s prehistoric history continues to evolve and take flight.
The pterosaurs – the earliest vertebrates known to have evolved the ability to fly – are a powerful and frequent symbol of the age of dinosaurs.
Pterosaurs have been discovered on every continent but the fossil record is remarkably small. Pterosaur bones are thin and hollow and their remains are often incomplete.
The fossil record for pterosaurs in Australia is particularly sparse; there are only 15 known fragmentary specimens.
The most complete pterosaur specimen ever found
So the discovery of new species, Ferrodraco lentoni, in the fossil-rich country of central Queensland is noteworthy in and of itself. The bonus is that the fossil, which includes parts of the skull and five vertebrae and wing elements, is the most complete pterosaur specimen ever found in Australia.
F. lentoni came to light in 2017 on Belmont Station, north-east of the Dinosaur Capital of Australia Winton, by a team including Adele Pentland, from Swinburne University of Technology, the lead author of the description just published in Scientific Reports.
Based on the shape and characteristics of its jaws, including crests on upper and lower jaw and spike-shaped teeth, the authors identified the specimen as belonging to the Anhanguera, a clade which are also known from discoveries in Brazil, China and England.
F. lentoni might have survived later in Australia than elsewhere
Comparison with other anhanguerian pterosaurs suggests that F. lentoni had a wingspan of about four metres. The authors identified a number of unique dental characteristics, including small front teeth, which distinguish F. lentoni from other anhanguerians and identify it as a new species.
The team’s findings suggest that F. lentoni may be a late-surviving anhanguerian. They were believed to have gone extinct at the end of the Cenomanian period (100–94 million years ago).
The fossil was the first pterosaur reported from the Winton Formation, which underlies a large part of central and western Queensland, and was discovered in a part of the formation that may have deposited as late as the early Turonian period (93–90 million years ago).
This suggests that the anhanguerians may have survived later in Australia than elsewhere.
Pentland and colleagues found the fossil preserved in ironstone. The pterosaur was named Ferrodraco lentoni (Lenton’s iron dragon) and nicknamed Butch after the late Mayor of Winton, Graham ‘Butch’ Lenton.