In a groundbreaking discovery, a team of researchers has recently confirmed that the oldest pterosaur bones ever found in Australia are over 107 million years old. These remarkable fossils, unearthed more than three decades ago by a team led by Dr. Tom Rich and Professor Pat Vickers-Rich at Dinosaur Cove in Victoria, shed light on the lives of these magnificent flying reptiles that coexisted with dinosaurs.
The study, published in the journal Historical Biology, involved the analysis of a partial pelvis bone and a small wing bone. The bones were determined to belong to two different pterosaur individuals. The partial pelvis bone came from a pterosaur with a wingspan exceeding two meters, while the small wing bone belonged to a juvenile pterosaur—a significant first for Australia.
Lead researcher Adele Pentland, a Ph.D. student from Curtin’s School of Earth and Planetary Sciences, emphasized that pterosaurs, close relatives of dinosaurs, were winged reptiles that inhabited the skies during the Mesozoic Era. She further explained that during the Cretaceous Period, when these pterosaurs lived (145-66 million years ago), Australia was positioned farther south than it is today. Victoria, the region where the fossils were discovered, was within the polar circle and experienced extended periods of darkness during winter. Despite such challenging conditions, pterosaurs managed to adapt and thrive.
Pentland expressed the significance of these findings, stating that pterosaurs are rare worldwide, and only a few remains have been unearthed in high-latitude locations like Victoria. The newly analyzed bones offer valuable insights into the distribution and size of pterosaurs. Furthermore, they confirm the existence of the first documented juvenile pterosaur in Australia, which resided in the Victorian forests approximately 107 million years ago.
While the bones provide important information about pterosaurs, much remains unknown regarding their breeding habits in these harsh polar conditions. Pentland highlighted the need to determine whether pterosaurs migrated north during severe winters for breeding or if they adapted to the polar environment. The answers to these questions would deepen our understanding of these enigmatic flying reptiles.
Dr. Tom Rich of the Museums Victoria Research Institute expressed his delight at the research’s outcomes, which stemmed from the arduous work conducted at Dinosaur Cove several decades ago. He emphasized that the discovery of these two fossils was the result of the painstaking efforts of over 100 volunteers who excavated more than 60 meters of tunnel along the seaside cliff where the fossils were found.
The research was a collaborative effort involving scientists from Curtin’s School of Earth and Planetary Sciences, the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History, Monash University, and the Museums Victoria Research Institute.
Source: Curtin University