Australian Pterosaurs

Pterosaurs were flying relatives of the dinosaurs, although were not dinosaurs themselves. They were most likely warm-blooded active creatures, most of which were capable of active flight (rather than just gliding). Pterosaurs came in a wide variety of forms and sizes, from about the size of a pigeon up to the largest flying creatures that have ever existed (about the size of a small aeroplane). Their fossils are known from the Late Triassic until the very end of the Cretaceous, a span of about 160 million years. If Archaeopteryx is accepted as a true bird, then birds still have about 15 million years before they can beat this record. Pterosaurs became extinct at the end of the Cretaceous Period about 65 million years ago along with most of their distant dinosaur relatives.

Australian pterosaur remains are mostly just the occasional fragment of fossilised bone. Having light hollow bones, pterosaurs in general did not tend to fossilise very well. Hopefully future finds will help to fill in the considerable gaps in our knowledge of Australia's pterosaurs.

?Pteranodon| ?Ornithocheirus| Mythunga camara| ?Azhdarchid

?Pteranodon sp

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MEANINGToothless wing (or flyer)
CLASSIFICATION ?Pteranodontidae, Pterodactyloidea, Pterosauria
AGE Early Cretaceous (Albian)
SIZEWing span 7-9 metres (20-30 feet)
LOCATIONQueensland, Australia (Toolebuc Formation)

Material: incomplete pelvis, prepared out in three dimensions with acetic acid.

Possible Pteranodon material from Australia consists of an incomplete pelvis (the hip bones) that is uncrushed and so shows the natural articulations of the hip sockets (which indicates a sprawling lizard-like gait).

The pelvis includes most of the right ilium and right pubis, some of the prepubis and a small part of the right ischium, with remnants of two fused sacral centra and a sacral rib. It matches exactly in size and shape that of Pteranodon ingens. However if it is associated with the other pterosaur material from this site (with a toothed jaw fragment) of a pterosaur of about the same size then similarities to Pteranodon may only apply to some parts of the animal.

Molnar 1987 A pterosaur pelvis from western Queensland, Australia. Alcheringa 11:87-94

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?Ornithocheirus sp


MEANINGBird hand
CLASSIFICATION ?Ornithocheiridae, Pterodactyloidea, Pterosauria
AGE Early Cretaceous (Albian)
SIZESize unknown
LOCATIONQueensland, Australia (Toolebuc Formation)

Material: shoulder girdle, one vertebra, a section of the unfused lower jaw. All where prepared out in three dimensions using acetic acid.

The vertebra is almost hollow with fine struts supporting it. The scapulocoracoid is V-shaped with the scapular and corocoid wings enclosing an angle of about 75 degrees. In general form it approaches the scapulocoracoid in Late Cretaceous forms like Nyctosaurus and Pteranodon. However the jaw segment indicates teeth, and is similar to the English Ornithocheirus material.

A pelvis found near bye, which bears a stiking resemblance to that of Pteranodon ingens, could well belong to this creature, although the association is not definite.

Ornithocheirus was first described from fragments (mostly jaws) found in the Cambridge Greensands in England. Although Cenomanian in age, it is thought that the pterosaur remains may have been redeposited from earlier Albian strata. Ornithocheirs in general are characterised by their long narrow beaks filled with many small teeth. Due to the scrappy material that most ornithocheirs are based on, the Ornithocheiridae family may actually contain several distinct genera.

Molnar and Thulborn 1980 First pterosaur from Australia. Nature 288:361-363

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Mythunga camara
Molnar & Thulburn 2007

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MEANINGReferring to a star and a hunter of the skies in an
unspecified western Queensland aboriginal dialect
CLASSIFICATION Archaeopterodactyloidea, Pterodactyloidea,
AGE Toolebuc Formation, Late Albian,
Early Cretaceous
SIZEEstimated wing span 4.5-4.7 metres (15 feet)
LOCATIONHughenden region, Queensland, Australia

Material: Snout, missing the tip, broken through the antorbital fenestra, with associated mandible fragment.

Before publication, the partial snout was originally compared to that of Anhanguera from the Santana Formation in north eastern Brazil. Anhanguera was a large pterosaur with a long slender skull that bore a low sagittal crest on the top of the snout (shaped like the keel of a ship), and perhaps had a corresponding crest underneath the lower jaw. It is thought that the keel-shaped crests may have helped stabilise the tip of the snout as it ploughed through the water, when the creature snatched fish while it flew low over the surface. Several pterosaur species had similar crests, and all seem to be fish eaters. The Mythunga material is too incomplete to know for sure whether it had a keeled skull though.

By the time the paper was accepted for publication, it was thought that Mythunga may not be an Anhanguerid after all. Phylogenetic analysis suggested that the material may have belonged to a plesiomorphic archaeopterodactyloid. However the fragmentary nature of the fossil makes comparisons with other pterosaur species difficult. Other pterosaur material from Queensland however does seem to resemble that of Anhanguera, such as a coracoid also from the Toolebuc Formation.

This individual Mythunga specimen seems to have been a sub-adult at the time it died, suggesting that fully-grown adults of the species reached wingspans of greater than 5 metres.

Molnar, R.E. & R.A.Thulburn 2007 "AN INCOMPLETE PTEROSAUR SKULL FROM THE CRETACEOUS OF NORTH-CENTRAL QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA". Arquivos do Museu Nacional, Rio de Janeiro, v.65, n.4, p.461-470

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MEANINGPerhaps belonging to the family Azhdarchidae,
named after the Pterosaur Azhdarcho lancicollis
CLASSIFICATION ?Azhdarchidae, Pterodactyloidea, Pterosauria
AGE Late Cretaceous (Maastrichtian) 66-70 MYA
SIZEEstimated wing span 4 metres (13 feet)
LOCATIONWestern Australia (Miria Formation)

Material: partial (proximal) ulna

The ulna has a maximum breadth of 5.4 cm (2.1 inches) across the distal end, with a cortical thickness of 1 mm across its mid section. It is very similar to the Azhdarchid pterosaur Arambourgiania philadelphidae (formerly Titanopteryx), in having a ridge dividing the medial condyle.

Arambourgiania was a very large pterosaur known from just four incomplete bones from the Maastrichtian of Jordon. When compared to its better known relative Quetzalcoatlus northropi from North America, Arambourgiania may have had a wing span of 12 metres (40 feet) or more, making it one of the largest flying creatures that has ever lived. If the Australian material is indeed from a creature similar to Arambourgiania then it would have been a particularly small variety, with a wing span of only 4 metres (13 feet)

Bennet and Long 1991 A large pterodactyloid pterosaur from the Late Cretaceous (Maastrichtian) of Western Australia. Records of the Western Australian Museum 15:435-444

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