A fearsome beast soared above the ancient, vast inland sea once that once covered covering much of outback Queensland. This newly found pterosaur, named Thapunngaka shawi, was discovered in Wanamara Country, near Richmond in North West Queensland.

It's the stuff of nightmares, with a spear-like mouth containing 40 giant teeth and a wingspan around 20 feet.

We may imagine it to be like a big bird or a bat but that is not so, according to University of Queensland doctoral student Tim Richards: "Pterosaurs were a successful and diverse group of reptiles – the very first back-boned animals to take a stab at powered flight.”

Thapunngaka shawi. Graphic provided by University of Queensland

The new species belonged to a group of pterosaurs known as anhanguerians, which inhabited every continent during the latter part of the Age of Dinosaurs. Being perfectly adapted to powered flight, pterosaurs had thin-walled and relatively hollow bones.

Given these adaptations their fossilized remains are rare and often poorly preserved, but this is the third species of anhanguerian pterosaur known from Australia, with all three species hailing from western Queensland. The fossil was found in a quarry just northwest of Richmond in June 2011 by Len Shaw, a local fossil hunter who has been ‘scratching around’ in the area for decades, and why he gets credited in the name.

Co-author Dr. Steve Salisbury said what was particularly striking about this new species of anhanguerian was the massive size of the bony crest on its lower jaw, which it presumably had on the upper jaw as well. “These crests probably played a role in the flight dynamics of these creatures, and hopefully future research will deliver more definitive answers.” 

“It’s quite amazing fossils of these animals exist at all,” Richards said. “By world standards, the Australian pterosaur record is poor, but the discovery of Thapunngaka contributes greatly to our understanding of Australian pterosaur diversity.”

Local people can see Thapunngaka shawi is on display at Kronosaurus Korner in Richmond.