Haliskia peterseni

An artist's impression of Haliskia peterseni, by Gabriel Ugueto.

PERTH, Australia — Scientists have discovered a brand-new species that roamed the Earth millions of years ago. Fossilized bones revealed a previously unknown type of pterosaur — a flying reptile in prehistoric times. This new creature that dates back roughly 100 million years appears to have had sharp teeth that likely made it a formidable predator in its day.

Researchers in Australia say the fossilized bones were found in 2021 and belonged to the Haliskia peterseni, a new genus and species of anhanguerian pterosaur. The anhanguerian were a group of pterosaurs that lived in present-day Brazil, China, Morocco, England, Spain, and the United States.

“With a wingspan of approximately 4.6m, 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,” says lead author Adele Pentland, a PhD student from Curtin University School of Earth and Planetary Sciences, in a university release.

The fossilized remains’ unearthing makes it the first almost complete specimen of an anhanguerian and any pterosaur in Australia. It is 22% complete — more than twice the amount of the other known partial pterosaur skeleton. The discovery is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

pterosaur fossil
Australian pterosaur cranial material. (A), (B) and (C) Haliskia peterseni gen. et sp. nov., holotype premaxilla and teeth; (D) and (E) Ferrodraco lentoni holotype premaxilla–maxilla and mandible (AODF 876); (F) and (G) Mythunga camara holotype skull and mandible (QM F18896); (H) and (I) KK F600 premaxilla. A, D–I are photographs, B–C are renders of a digital model generated from neutron scans. A, D–E taken by A.H.P., B–C by R.J.D, F–G taken by S.F.P. and H–I taken by Michelle Johnstone. Scale bar = 20 mm. (Credit: Scientific Reports)

The new discovery contains a complete set of the flying reptile’s lower jaws, the tip of the upper jaw, 43 teeth, vertebrae, ribs, bones from both wings, and a fragment of a leg. Some thin bones were also found to be part of the reptile’s throat. According to the authors, the throat bones suggest the presence of a muscular tongue, which probably helped the dinosaur eat fish and cephalopods (like squid and octopus).

“I’m thrilled that my discovery is a new species, as my passion lies in helping shape our modern knowledge of prehistoric species,” says Kevin Petersen, a curator for Kronosaurus Korner Museum in Australia who helped discover and preserve the fossilized remains.

Haliskia peterseni is one of many marine fossil specimens at Australia’s Kronosaurus Korner museum. Also on display is Kronosaurus queenslandicus, the largest marine reptile with a skull at least 2.4 meters long, a plesiosaur from Australia and bones from the plesiosaur Eromangasaurus, and the ichthyosaur Platypterygius.

About Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master's of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor's of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women's health.

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