Ancient bones reveal new species of pterosaur in Australia

Haliskia peterseni. Credit: Gabriel Ugueto.

New research from Curtin University has uncovered a remarkable discovery in western Queensland, Australia.

Fossilized bones found here, which are 100 million years old, have been identified as a new species of pterosaur, a type of flying reptile that lived during the time of the dinosaurs.

This newly discovered species has been named Haliskia peterseni.

The full study, titled “Haliskia peterseni, a new anhanguerian pterosaur from the late Early Cretaceous of Australia,” was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

The fossils were unearthed in 2021 by Kevin Petersen, the curator of the Kronosaurus Korner museum.

The research team, led by Ph.D. student Adele Pentland from Curtin’s School of Earth and Planetary Sciences, studied the shape of the skull, teeth, and shoulder bone to identify the specimen.

They concluded that it belongs to the anhanguerian group of pterosaurs. This group of flying reptiles was widespread, with previous discoveries in places like Brazil, England, Morocco, China, Spain, and the United States.

Haliskia peterseni had an impressive wingspan of about 4.6 meters, making it a fearsome predator 100 million years ago. At that time, much of central western Queensland was submerged under a vast inland sea, located approximately where Victoria’s southern coastline is today.

“Mr. Petersen’s careful work has given us the most complete anhanguerian specimen ever found in Australia,” said Ms. Pentland. “This new pterosaur is 22 percent complete, which is more than twice as complete as any other known partial pterosaur skeleton found in Australia.”

The fossil includes complete lower jaws, the tip of the upper jaw, 43 teeth, vertebrae, ribs, wing bones, part of a leg, and very thin, delicate throat bones. These throat bones suggest that Haliskia had a muscular tongue, useful for catching fish and cephalopods.

Haliskia peterseni is now part of the impressive marine fossil collection at Kronosaurus Korner. This collection includes Kronosaurus queenslandicus, the largest marine reptile with a skull at least 2.4 meters long, the most complete plesiosaur found in Australia, and bones from the plesiosaur Eromangasaurus and the ichthyosaur Platypterygius.

Mr. Petersen expressed his excitement about the discovery, stating that it boosts science, education, and regional tourism. “I’m thrilled that my discovery is a new species,” he said. “My passion lies in helping shape our modern knowledge of prehistoric species.”

This incredible find not only enhances our understanding of prehistoric life but also highlights the rich fossil heritage of Australia.

Source: Curtin University.