Most complete Australian pterosaur specimen, new species, found in Queensland

The fossilised remains of a 100-million-year-old massive flying pterosaur have been found in western Queensland.

The reptile helps flesh out what this part of the Australian outback was like at the height of the “Age of Dinosaurs” during the Cretaceous period (145–66 million years ago).

Haliskia peterseni was unearthed in 2021 and is described in a paper published today in the journal Scientific Reports.

H.peterseni belongs to a group of snout-crested, toothed pterosaurs called anhanguerians which have been found around the world. This group includes one of the largest pterosaurs to have ever lived, Ornithocheirus simus, which had a wingspan of more than 12 metres and has been found in England and possibly Morocco.

Most present-day eagles typically have a wingspan of about 2 – 2.5m; while the albatross can be a metre wider than that.

While not as large as its antipodean cousin, H. peterseni would have been a formidable hunter.

“With a wingspan of approximately 4.6m, Haliskia would have been a fearsome predator around 100 million years ago when much of central western Queensland was underwater, covered by a vast inland sea and globally positioned about where Victoria’s southern coastline is today,” says lead researcher Adele Pentland, a PhD student at Western Australia’s Curtin University.

The new findis the most complete specimen of any pterosaur found in the country.

Haliskia is 22% complete, making it more than twice as complete as the only other known partial pterosaur skeleton found in Australia,” Pentland says. “The specimen includes complete lower jaws, the tip of the upper jaw, 43 teeth, vertebrae, ribs, bones from both wings and part of a leg. Also present are very thin and delicate throat bones, indicating a muscular tongue, which helped during feeding on fish and cephalopods.”

Palaeontologist looks at slab containing fossils
Lead author Adele Pentland studying Haliskia peterseni. Supplied.

Pentland adds Haliskia to a growing personal body of research which includes her description of the oldest pterosaur found in Australia.

The specimen will be displayed at the Kronosaurus Korner museum in central Queensland. It will join other massive reptiles which once lived alongside dinosaurs including the museum’s namesake, Kronosaurus queenslandicus – a marine reptile with a 2.4-metre-long skull – and the most complete plesiosaur in Australia.

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