Researchers have confirmed after examining fossils that the oldest flying reptiles in Australia took to the skies about 107 million years ago.
Paleontologists have analyzed bone samples belonging to two separate pterosaurs–winged reptiles that were among the first vertebrates to evolve true flight–that were originally discovered more than 30 years ago.
One of the specimens, a small wing bone, belonged to a juvenile pterosaur – the first reported specimen in Australia. The other, a partial pelvic bone, came from a pterosaur that had a wingspan of more than two metres. They date back to 107 million years ago.
The bones were first discovered in the 1980s at Dinosaur Cove near Cape Otway in southern Victoria, by a team led by Dr Tom Rich of the Museum Research Institute of Victoria and Professor Pat Vickers Rich.
To date, they have never been described in peer-reviewed scientific research, which was published in the journal Historical Biology.
The study’s lead author, Adele Pentland of Curtin University, said pterosaurs are known to exist on every continent, including Antarctica.
Although pterosaurs are prehistoric reptiles, they differ from flying dinosaurs.
Pentland is completing a PhD in pterosaurs and in 2019 named a new species of reptile, Ferrodraco lentoni, which was also the most complete Australian pterosaur found to date.
Pentland was unable to determine the exact species of the pterosaur specimens at Cape Otway. Unusually, they were found at an “Old Testament Old Testament” site.
Return when [these pterosaurs] Australia was alive, and it was part of the great southern continent Gondwana. “Victoria was farther south than it is today and it was in the Arctic Circle.
Sedimentary geology tells us that these animals likely lived in the dark for weeks, if not months, throughout the year. Would be great to answer in the future… Were pterosaurs hardy under such extreme conditions, were they permanent year-round residents, or could they migrate? We do not know. “
Four species of pterosaurs have been described in Australia to date, based on fossils found in central-west Queensland.
“In terms of the Australian pterosaur record, we have a little bit of catching up,” Pentland said. “The first pterosaurs were described in the 18th century, but here in Australia, the first pterosaur bones were not published in a scientific journal until 1980.”