The 96-million-year-old skeleton of a giant flying reptile has been discovered under a sheep farm in Australia.
Palaeontologists believe the remains belong to a pterosaur, the earliest vertebrates known to have evolved powered flight.
Pterosaur means “winged lizard” in Greek.
The creature had a 4-metre wingspan, a 60cm long crested head and elongated jaws with spiked teeth.
“This is based on comparisons with similar pterosaurs. It would have been an apex aerial predator,” said Adele Pentland, a PHD student and palaeontologist at Swinburne University of Technology.
“This pterosaur has a large crest at the front of its upper jaws and also had a crest on its lower jaws.
“The latter is broken and its presence has been inferred from CT scan data.”
Researchers have named the pterosaur Ferrodraco – Latin for “iron dragon”.
Bob Elliot, a sheep farmer, discovered the remains in Winton, Queensland in early 2017.
He alerted a local museum and volunteers carried out an excavation of the area.
Ms Pentland has helped to write an article about the discovery in the journal Scientific Reports.
She said the winged reptile lived in the Winton area, 96 million years ago, "in a conifer forest with floodplain and river channels”.
“[The forest] was inhabited by long-necked sauropod dinosaurs, carnivorous theropods, ornithopods and ankylosaurs.”
The creatures in the forest would have included the Tyrannoaurus rex, the researchers said.
There are 15 known pterosaur fossils in Australia.
“With a total of 30 bones preserved, or 10 per cent of Ferrodraco’s skeleton, the number of pterosaur bones reported from Australia has now tripled,” Ms Pentland said.
The skeleton has been placed on display in the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum.
David Elliott, the museum’s co-founder, said the discovery was one of the organisation’s most exciting additions.
“The Winton area has produced the majority of Australia’s large dinosaur fossils so presenting a significant pterosaur skeleton alongside the giants with which it co-existed is a huge bonus for science, education and regional tourism,” he said.
Additional reporting by agencies
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies