The most important pterosaur fossil ever found in Australia has been unearthed within the Winton space of central western Queensland.
The newly found species, which my colleagues and I’ve named Ferrodraco lentoni, had a wingspan of about four metres (13 ft). It lived round 96 million years in the past, and was surprisingly just like different pterosaurs from England, suggesting that these enormous flying reptiles might traverse the globe with relative ease.
Pterosaurs are fairly uncommon within the fossil report, as their bones are hole and the outer bone in most situations is barely 1mm thick. Only 15 pterosaur specimens have ever been scientifically described from Australia, a lot of them incomplete.
Until lately, solely two species of Australian pterosaur had been described: Mythunga camara and Aussiedraco molnari, each primarily based on fossil cranium fragments.
Although extra full fossils of comparable pterosaurs are recognized from Brazil and China, till this discovery, our understanding of the pterosaurs that lived in Australia in the course of the Cretaceous interval was restricted.
The new pterosaur specimen, unveiled today in the journal Scientific Reports, features a partial cranium, 5 partial neck vertebrae, and bones from each the left and proper wings.
This specific particular person represents a totally grown grownup, primarily based on the fusion seen in a number of bones. Judging by its wing bones and the size of comparable pterosaurs, Ferrodraco would have had a wingspan of about four metres (13 ft), with a cranium in all probability reaching 60 centimeters (2 ft) in size. It is probably going that it ate primarily fish.
The genus title Ferrodraco refers to the truth that this winged reptile was discovered preserved in ironstone. And the species title lentoni honours former Winton Shire mayor Graham “Butch” Lenton, in recognition of his service to the neighborhood. The Winton space has inside latest a long time produced a number of well-preserved dinosaur fossils.
Ferrodraco lived 96 million years in the past, round lake and river programs surrounded by conifer forests. Based on different fossil proof, this pterosaur shared its setting with a number of dinosaurs together with the sauropods Diamantinasaurus and Savannasaurus, theropods reminiscent of Australovenator, ornithopods and ankylosaurs.
Competing with Ferrodraco for fish within the freshwater river programs had been crocodylomorphs (reminiscent of Isisfordia) and plesiosaurs.
The Ferrodraco specimen was found by Winton grazier Bob Elliott in April 2017 when he was spraying weedkiller alongside the banks of a creek on Belmont Station. It’s not the primary main fossil discover on Belmont Station—the distinctive sauropod dinosaur Savannasaurus elliottorum was found simply 6.2 miles from the pterosaur web site.
Unlike different fossil websites within the Winton space, the pterosaur stays had been discovered within the banks of a creek and had probably been uncovered to the weather for a number of years. One bone from the wing had even been kicked away from the principle web site by livestock travelling by means of the creek. Had the bones not been infiltrated by iron-rich fluids, which in the end grew to become ironstone, these treasured fossils would have been misplaced to erosion a few years in the past.
Unlike many different fossils, the bones had been lined by a skinny layer of rock. This meant that Ferrodraco had an unusually fast journey (by palaeontological requirements) from discovery to scientific publication.
Preparation of the specimen was completed inside per week by preparator Ali Calvey. Even earlier than the bones had been absolutely ready, our staff was capable of make detailed observations and decide which household of pterosaurs this specimen belonged to.
Surprisingly, Ferrodraco reveals nearer ties with equally aged pterosaurs from England than it does to these from South America. This means that these pterosaurs, collectively referred to as ornithocheirids, might simply fly throughout oceans and disperse between continents.
This concept has been put ahead by different palaeontologists, however the dearth of fabric from Australia had made it troublesome to confirm till now.
Ferrodraco has modified the sport in that regard, demonstrating that it was residing not less than as lately as its Northern Hemisphere ornithocheirid cousins. In reality, it’d symbolize one of many geologically youngest ornithocheirids ever discovered. Although extra work must be finished to reveal this, Ferrodraco is nonetheless probably the most necessary pterosaur specimens ever present in Australia.
Views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal.