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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Meet Thapunngaka shawi, a flying reptile that ruled Queensland’s skies

"It's the closest thing we have to a real-life dragon...The new pterosaur would have been a fearsome beast, with a spear-like mouth," first author Tim Richards says.

By: Science Desk | Kochi |
August 10, 2021 6:32:41 pm
Thapunngaka shawiAn artist’s impression of the Thapunngaka shawi (University of Queensland)

Fossils collected from the Toolebuc Formation in North West Queensland, Australia have revealed a new species of pterosaur or flying reptile that lived about 100 million years ago. The study team estimated that it had a wingspan of about 23 feet, one metre long skull and around 40 teeth.

First author Tim Richards explained in a release that “it is the closest thing we have to a real-life dragon… The new pterosaur would have been a fearsome beast, with a spear-like mouth. This thing would have been quite savage. It would have cast a great shadow over some quivering little dinosaurs who wouldn’t have heard them coming until it was too late.”

It was named Thapunngaka shawi, in honour of Len Shaw, a local fossicker who discovered it. The genus names thapun and ngaka, mean spear and mouth, respectively, in Wanamara language.

The team notes that it was part of the clade Anhangueria and is only the third species of Anhanguerian pterosaur discovered from Australia. Richards adds: “By world standards, the Australian pterosaur record is poor, but the discovery of Thapunngaka contributes greatly to our understanding of Australian pterosaur diversity.”

Dr Steve Salisbury, co-author on the paper, explained in the release that what was particularly striking about this new species of Anhanguerian was the massive size of the bony crest on its lower jaw, which it presumably had on the upper jaw as well. “These crests probably played a role in the flight dynamics of these creatures, and hopefully future research will deliver more definitive answers,” Dr Salisbury said.

The findings were published yesterday in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

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