October is International Dinosaur Month, and today we're introducing you to a monstrous member of the pterosaur family with a Game of Thrones-like moniker most becoming of its nature.
Gliding aloft in the prehistoric heavens of ancient Australia, a fierce new species of pterosaur has been recently discovered in the Winton area of central western Queensland, and its evocative name evokes a primal chill even in the most stout-hearted of paleontologists.
Originally unearthed by Winton grazier Bob Elliott in April 2017 while spraying weedkiller along the creek banks of Belmont Station, this particular specimen has been officially identified and named Ferrodraco lentoni, or Iron Dragon, due to its ferocious appearance and the method by which it was ultimately preserved in the region's native ironstone.
These findings were published last week in the journal Scientific Reports, and the incomplete fossil includes a partial skull, five partial neck vertebrae, and several bones from both the left and right wings. The toothy Iron Dragon existed some 96 million years ago, during the Cretaceous Period, near the area's extensive lake and river systems bordered by thick conifer forests, feasting on small fish and other tasty aquatic prey.
With an adult wingspan of 13 feet, it represents the most complete pterosaur skeleton ever found in Australia, and its similarity to English pterosaurs of the same time period implies that these winged wonders could easily flap their way across oceans and continents.
Led by paleontologist Adele Pentland, a Ph.D. candidate at the Swinburne University of Technology, Ferrodraco lentoni's research paper represents a rare and important find in revealing the migratory patterns and diverse habitats of these magnificent flying reptiles.
According to the study, completed by the team at Australian Age of Dinosaurs Natural History Museum, pterosaurs are well known from Mesozoic strata on all continents, with their fossil record spanning the timeline between the Late Triassic–end Cretaceous. Yet pterosaur discoveries worldwide are usually fragmentary at best. A total of only 15 pterosaur specimens have ever been scientifically catalogued from the continent of Australia, most of them woefully incomplete.
“The ‘iron dragon’ seemed fitting, given that this animal would have been one of the top predators of the skies during the Cretaceous," said Pentland in a statement. "Moreover, without the preservation of the bones in ironstone, it’s unlikely that we would have recovered this fossil material in the first place.”
What do you think of the new Iron Dragon pterosaur, and can you image flocks of these beautiful Aussie beasts flooding the primeval skies?