(CN) — Scientists discovered the fossils of the largest flying reptile in Australia, a massive pterosaur with a 22-foot wingspan that made its home in the outback of Queensland.
“It’s the closest thing we have to a real life dragon,” said Tim Richards of the University of Queensland.
Richards and a team of researchers made the discovery while examining a fossil of the pterosaur’s jaw that was found in Northwest Queensland.
“The new pterosaur, which we named Thapunngaka shawi, would have been a fearsome beast, with a spear-like mouth and a wingspan around seven meters [22 feet],” Richards said in a statement. “It was essentially just a skull with a long neck, bolted on a pair of long wings.
“This thing would have been quite savage. It would have cast a great shadow over some quivering little dinosaur that wouldn’t have heard it until it was too late.”
The researchers said the skull itself was more than 3 feet in length and held about 40 teeth in its jaw.
“It’s tempting to think it may have swooped like a magpie during mating season, making your local magpie swoop look pretty trivial — no amount of zip ties would have saved you,” Richards said.
“Though, to be clear, it was nothing like a bird, or even a bat — Pterosaurs were a successful and diverse group of reptiles — the very first back-boned animals to take a stab at powered flight.”
Richards said the fossils were part of a group of pterosaurs called anhanguerians and believed to be found on every continent. As pterosaurs had hollow, thin-walled bones, he said finding such fossils has been difficult.
“It’s quite amazing fossils of these animals exist at all,” Richards said. “By world standards, the Australian pterosaur record is poor, but the discovery of Thapunngaka contributes greatly to our understanding of Australian pterosaur diversity.”
Co-author Steve Salisbury said one of the more interesting features of the newly discovered species was the large bony crest on its lower jaw, which was matched by a similar one on its upper jaw.
“These crests probably played a role in the flight dynamics of these creatures, and hopefully future research will deliver more definitive answers,” Salisbury said.
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