Giant winged reptiles soared in the skies of Australia as long as 107 million years ago, according to a new study.
The Pterosaur was the first reptile to evolve the ability to fly during the Mesozoic era, which began 250 million years ago.
The research team, which included scientists from Perth-based Curtin University and Museums Victoria along with dozens of volunteers, determined the species and age of the remains after evaluating two bone fragments from two different pterosaurs. The bones were originally found more than three decades ago at Dinosaur Cove, a site in the Australian state of Victoria known for its abundance of fossils, CNN said.
Adele Pentland, the author of the study and a PhD student from Curtin University, explained that the bones sat on the shelf so long because of disinterest in the species.
Then she got hold of the bones and “finally gave (pterosaurs) their moment in the sun,” CNN reported. They had few such moments even in life -- Australia was deep in darkness for weeks at a time 107 million years ago, CNN wrote. It was much farther south.
The researchers wrote in the science journal Historical Biology that the pelvis fragment and a wing bone from two different pterosaurs were the oldest ever found in Australia.
The two pterosaurs lived in the Early Cretaceous Epoch, which lasted from 145 million years to 100.5 million years ago, according to the Natural History Museum in London. The Late Cretaceous Epoch lasted until 66 million years ago – when the Chicxulub Impactor, the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs, slammed into the Yucatan peninsula.
All Australian pterosaur fossils – about 25 – are restricted to the Cretaceous, according to the study published in Historical Biology.
The wing bone belonged to a juvenile, the first ever found in Australia, according to Historical Biology. The pelvis came from a pterosaur with a wingspan of up to 3.5 meters (11.5 feet) -- which is about the size of a pelican’s. Some pterosaurs had spans of up to 10 meters (more than 33 feet), CNN said. No living birds come near that but it’s roughly the size of a Piper Cub.
During their lifetime, Australia was much farther south -- the state of Victoria, now in the extreme southeast of Australia, was inside the polar circle, Pentland said. The world was much warmer, and there was little or no ice at the poles, but the winters were cruel, and the days were dark for weeks. The sea level was 107 meters higher, making Australia a much smaller place, according to Natural History Museum.
The bones were originally found in 1986 in the extreme southeast of Australia. The new study’s findings expanded both the range and timeline of Australian pterosaurs, Pentland wrote.
Most pterosaur fossils in Australia have been discovered in Queensland, a huge state that constitutes the northern corner of the continent, the study said.