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Oldest pterosaur bones found in Australia date back 107 million years

A team of researchers led by Curtin University in collaboration with Museums Victoria has recently confirmed that the 107-million-year-old pterosaur bones discovered over three decades ago are the oldest of their kind ever found in Australia. The study of the fossils sheds new light on the life of these powerful, flying reptiles that lived among the dinosaurs during the Mesozoic era.

The experts examined a partial pelvis bone and a small wing bone discovered at the Dinosaur Cove in Victoria, Australia in the late 1980s by Dr. Tom Rich, Professor Pat Vickers-Rich, and colleagues.

What the researchers learned 

The analysis revealed that the bones belonged to two different pterosaurs: while the partial pelvis bone belonged to a pterosaur with a wingspan exceeding two meters, the small wing bone belonged to a juvenile pterosaur (the first ever reported in Australia).

“During the Cretaceous Period (145–66 million years ago), Australia was further south than it is today, and the state of Victoria was within the polar circle — covered in darkness for weeks on end during the winter. Despite these seasonally harsh conditions, it is clear that pterosaurs found a way to survive and thrive,” said study lead author Adele Pentland, a PhD student in Paleontology at Curtin.

“Pterosaurs are rare worldwide, and only a few remains have been discovered at what were high palaeolatitude locations, such as Victoria, so these bones give us a better idea as to where pterosaurs lived and how big they were. By analyzing these bones, we have also been able to confirm the existence of the first ever Australian juvenile pterosaur, which resided in the Victorian forests around 107 million years ago.”

However, further research is needed to determine whether pterosaurs migrated north during the harsh winters to breed, or whether they managed to adapt to polar conditions. “Finding the answer to this question will help researchers better understand these mysterious flying reptiles,” Pentland concluded.

The study is published in the journal Historical Biology.

More about pterosaurs

Pterosaurs, often referred to as pterodactyls, were a group of flying reptiles that lived during most of the Mesozoic Era, from the late Triassic to the end of the Cretaceous Period, approximately 228 to 66 million years ago. They were the first known vertebrates to have evolved powered flight, predating the birds and bats by millions of years. Pterosaurs are closely related to dinosaurs but are not considered dinosaurs themselves.


Pterosaurs varied greatly in size, with wingspans ranging from a few centimeters to over 10 meters (33 feet). The largest known pterosaurs, such as Quetzalcoatlus, are among the largest known flying animals of all time. On the other hand, some smaller pterosaurs, like Anurognathus, were only about 50 centimeters (20 inches) in wingspan.


Pterosaurs had a unique anatomy, which included a body covered by pycnofibres, a type of hair-like covering similar to but not identical with the fur of modern mammals. Some types of pterosaurs also featured crests of various sizes and shapes. Their wings were formed by a skin and muscle membrane that stretched from their elongated fourth finger to their hind limbs.


The diet and lifestyle of pterosaurs varied significantly among species. Some were fish-eaters, others ate small dinosaurs or insects, and some species may have been scavengers. Despite their reptilian nature, many paleontologists believe that pterosaurs were warm-blooded, similar to modern birds and mammals, allowing them to sustain high levels of activity.

Pterosaurs became extinct at the end of the Cretaceous Period, about 66 million years ago, likely due to the same event that killed off the non-avian dinosaurs – the impact of a large asteroid or comet in what is now the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.

Pterosaurs remain a subject of active research, and new species and findings continue to expand our understanding of these fascinating prehistoric creatures.


By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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