Oldest pterosaur fossils found in Australia date back to 107 million years

Pterosaurs are rare worldwide, and only a few remains have been discovered at high paleolatitude locations, so the bones shed light on where pterosaurs lived and how big they were.
Kavita Verma
Peter Trusler's reconstruction of an Australian pterosaur.
Peter Trusler's reconstruction of an Australian pterosaur

Peter Trusler 

The oldest pterosaur bones ever unearthed in Australia, dating to 107 million years ago, have been confirmed by a team of experts, offering a unique look into the life of these formidable, flying reptiles that coexisted with dinosaurs.

Published in the journal Historical Biology and completed in collaboration with Museums Victoria, the study involved scientists examining pterosaur bones that had been found in the late 1980s. The bones belonged to two different pterosaurs, including the first young pterosaur to be discovered in Australia and a pterosaur with a wingspan of nearly two meters.

Pterosaurs were winged reptiles that coexisted with dinosaurs during the Mesozoic Era, according to lead researcher Adele Pentland.

“During the Cretaceous Period (145–66 million years ago), Australia was further south than it is today, and the state of Victoria was within the polar circle — covered in darkness for weeks on end during the winter. Despite these seasonally harsh conditions, it is clear that pterosaurs found a way to survive and thrive,” Pentland said in a press release.

Understanding pterosaur habitat and size

“Pterosaurs are rare worldwide, and only a few remains have been discovered at what were high palaeolatitude locations, such as Victoria, so these bones give us a better idea as to where pterosaurs lived and how big they were. By analyzing these bones, we have also been able to confirm the existence of the first ever Australian juvenile pterosaur, which resided in the Victorian forests around 107 million years ago," Pentland explained.

Although the bones reveal crucial information about pterosaurs, little is known about whether they were able to reproduce in these extreme polar environments, said Pentland.

“It will only be a matter of time until we are able to determine whether pterosaurs migrated north during the harsh winters to breed, or whether they adapted to polar conditions. Finding the answer to this question will help researchers better understand these mysterious flying reptiles,” Pentland added.

Decades of dedication rewarded

Dr. Tom Rich, from Museums Victoria Research Institute, said it was wonderful to see the fruits of research coming out of the hard work of Dinosaur Cove which was completed decades ago.

“These two fossils were the outcome of a labor-intensive effort by more than 100 volunteers over a decade,” Rich said.

“That effort involved excavating more than 60 meters of tunnel where the two fossils were found in a seaside cliff at Dinosaur Cove.”

The research was co-authored by researchers from Curtin’s School of Earth and Planetary Sciences, the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History, Monash University, and Museums Victoria Research Institute.

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