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Pterosaur tears up ancient sky

By David, 10 October 2019 News

A pterosaur - a flying reptile from the age of the dinosaurs

Ninety million years ago, you might have seen these gigantic pterosaurs flying around Queensland.
Image: Travis R Tischler

It’s spring, and in many areas of Australia that means it’s magpie swooping season. But next time you’re ducking an angry bird, be thankful you live now and not 90 million years ago. Back then, the swooping might have come from something much larger.

Meet Ferrodraco lentoni, also known as Lenton’s iron dragon. Ferrodraco was a pterosaur, a type of flying reptile with wings made of skin. It had a four-metre wingspan, and probably hunted fish, swooping out of the sky into the ocean. And it lived in central Queensland.

“What ocean?” you might be asking. These days, central Queensland is dry, and it’s more than 500 kilometres to the nearest beach. But 90 million years ago, Australia had a giant inland body of water known as the Eromanga Sea.

Palaeontologists are starting to piece together what this coast might have been like. In the oceans, giant reptilian plesiosaurs and kronosaurs swam. On land, dinosaurs like Muttaburrasaurus and Wintonotitan may have munched on the ancestors of Wollemi pines. And helping to complete the picture, pterosaurs flew above.

Pterosaurs have been particularly difficult to find. One reason is that their bones were light and hollow – and that makes them less likely to survive for millions of years under the ground. Even so, there have been very few pterosaur finds in Australia.

There are only a few bones from one Ferrodraco that were found on a sheep station. Adele Pentland from Swinburne University of Technology is leading the team for the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum to examine the bone fragments. This includes pieces of the skull and jaw, some teeth, a handful of broken neckbones, and fragments of wing.

It may seem like a small collection of bones, but it’s a triumph. There are more bones in this one specimen than in all the other pterosaurs found in Australia, combined!

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