Pterosaur fossils have been discovered in all corners of the globe since their first discovery in Kansas in the 1700s. Some of the most common species, like the Pteranodon, have had many fossil examples unearthed, but many of the 150+ species are described from only a few, usually incomplete fossils.
A new species of crested pterosaur, Thapunngaka shawi, has recently been described in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology as likely belonging to the Anhangueridae family of pterosaurs. This new fossil is an incomplete mandibular rostrum, in other words, a lower jaw or beak-like bone. No teeth have survived, but the sockets in the jaw where the teeth would have been anchored are essential to distinguish this species from previously discovered fossils.
The fossil suggests that this species had the most prominent mandibular crest of any anhanguerian yet found, likely with a bony ridge on the top and bottom jaws. This crest could have been used in flight, as a display, for plucking fish from the water to eat, or something else we don’t yet understand. Australian pterosaur fossils are typically rare, and this is only the fourth named species from Australia.
Though the scientists only found a partial jaw, they gave a conservative estimate of the wingspan of T. shawi at six to seven meters or twenty to twenty-three feet. This estimate makes it the third-largest of all anhanguerians and the largest pterosaur found in Australia.
The fossil record for pterosaurs is relatively mixed. Some species are known from hundreds of individuals, but most are in poor condition because the lightweight delicate bones made for flying do not preserve well. Only in the best conditions do we find complete specimens. It is optimistic that we are still finding new species, and every new fossil presents an opportunity to learn something new by adding to the current knowledge.
This fossil was found about seven miles northwest of Richmond, North West Queensland, in an old quarry built for paving roads and is now stored at a regional Queensland State Government museum in Richmond.