Newly Described Australian Pterosaur Might Have Been One Of The Last Surviving Species Of Its Kind

Artist's impression of Ferrodraco lentoni. Illustration by T.R.T / Pentland et al./Scientific Reports 2019

A newly discovered Australian pterosaur is the most complete specimen ever uncovered from the Land Down Under. What’s more, it could be one of the last survivors of a group of pterodactyls known as the anhanguerians. The creature is described in Scientific Reports

While often mistaken for a kind of dinosaur, pterosaurs were actually flying reptiles, although they were more closely related to dinosaurs and their feathered living relatives than reptiles like crocodiles. The creatures lived from about 220 million years ago up until the late Cretaceous 66 million years ago, when the infamous dino-killing asteroid hurtled into our planet.

The newly discovered species was found in ironstone in Queensland’s Winton Formation and has been named Ferrodraco lentoni. Ferro is Latin for iron, referencing the rock in which it was found, while draco means dragon, a fitting name for a winged reptilian. Meanwhile, Lentoni refers to former Winton Shire mayor Graham Thomas Lenton in acknowledgment of his support of the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Natural History Museum.

The newly described iron-dragon may be one of the last survivors of a clade that went extinct around 94 million years ago. However, the new species may well have lasted until around 90-93 million years ago, towards the start of the Turonian era. Therefore, it appears this group of airborne reptiles may have survived longer in Australia than they did anywhere else.

"Given that this is one of the geologically youngest members of [the anhangueria] clade, these pterosaurs potentially survived longer than previously thought," first author Adele Pentland of Swinburne University of Technology told IFLScience. 

Skeletal reconstruction of F. lentoni. Pentland et al./Scientific Reports 2019

Pterosaur remains have been found on every continent, but only 15 specimens have so far been discovered in Australia. These have generally been comprised of mere fragments, whereas the Ferrodraco fossil includes parts of the skull and five vertebrae from the backbone. That might not sound like much, but it’s impressively complete compared to other finds.

Analyzing the remains, the researchers concluded that their specimen was a member of the anhanguerians thanks to the shape of its jaw and its pointy teeth. What makes it a distinct species are specific dental features such as its small front teeth. The team believe the species’ wings would have spanned an impressive 4 meters (13 feet). That’s about the length of a Volkswagen Beetle.

Still, that’s nothing compared to a recently described pterosaur found in Canada, which boasts a wingspan of 10 meters (33 feet), or an even bigger one unearthed in the Gobi Desert. It seems the ancient skies were filled with some truly impressive winged beasties.

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