New species of Cretaceous-era flying reptile identified in Australia

Haliskia peterseni as imagined by artist Gabriel Ugueto. The newly identified species of pterosaur was a fearsome flying reptile from the mid-Cretaceous period. Image by Gabriel Ugueto/Curtin University

June 12 (UPI) -- Researchers in Australia say a set of 100-million-year-old fossilized bones found in western Queensland are from a newly identified species of pterosaur, a fearsome flying reptile from the mid-Cretaceous period when dinosaurs still ruled the Earth.

The team from Western Australia's Curtin University discovered that the fossilized remains, unearthed in 2021 by Kronosaurus Korner museum curator Kevin Petersen, belong to Haliskia peterseni, a new genus and species of anhanguerian pterosaur, the university said Wednesday in a news release.

The specimen was identified as an anhanguerian by the Curtin School of Earth and Planetary Sciences researchers from the shape of its skull, arrangement of teeth and shape of the shoulder bone, according to the peer-reviewed study published in the journal Scientific Reports/Springer Nature.

Anhanguerian is a genus of pterosaurs known to have inhabited large areas of the world in what is now Brazil, Britain, Morocco, China, Spain and the United States.

"With a wingspan of approximately 15 feet, Haliskia would have been a fearsome predator around 100 million years ago when much of central western Queensland was underwater, covered by a vast inland sea and globally positioned about where Victoria's southern coastline is today," said lead author Adele Pentland, a doctoral student at Curtin.

"Careful preparation by Mr. Petersen has provided the remains of the most complete specimen of an anhanguerian, and of any pterosaur, discovered in Australia to date.

"Haliskia is 22% complete, making it more than twice as complete as the only other known partial pterosaur skeleton found in Australia.

"The specimen includes complete lower jaws, the tip of the upper jaw, 43 teeth, vertebrae, ribs, bones from both wings and part of a leg. Also present are very thin and delicate throat bones, indicating a muscular tongue, which helped during feeding on fish and cephalopods."

Haliskia peterseni joins several significant marine fossil specimens on display at Kronosaurus Korner, located in northern Queensland midway between Cairns and Mount Isa, including the biggest marine reptile, Kronosaurus queenslandicus, which has a skull almost 8 feet long.

The museum is also home to the most complete plesiosaur found in Australia and bones from the plesiosaur Eromangasaurus and the ichthyosaur Platypterygius.

Petersen said the Haliskia discovery would deliver strong benefits for science, education and regional tourism.

"I'm thrilled that my discovery is a new species, as my passion lies in helping shape our modern knowledge of prehistoric species."