Almost a Dragon
Posted: November 1, 2021
On his lunchbreak near Richmond, Australia, Len Shaw uncovers a jawbone fossil. What a find! What did this giant bone belong to? A dragon!
Well . . . almost a dragon.
Mr. Shaw dug up his fossil over 10 years ago, in 2011. At last, researchers have determined what creature the fossil came from. The jawbone belonged to the largest kind of pterosaur ever found in Australia.
A pterosaur isn’t a dinosaur, even though its name sounds like one. It’s a different type of extinct reptile. A big one. The pterosaur had wings. And when this one spread those wings out, they spanned nearly the length of a school bus!
Led by Tim Richards, researchers studied the fossil. They say the flying reptile had a skull over three feet long. About 40 sharp teeth nestled inside. According to Mr. Richards, this pterosaur likely plucked its daily dinner from the ocean. “It wasn’t built to eat broccoli,” he tells The Guardian. Some of the teeth were over an inch long, designed to grip something large.
The researchers gave the fossil a name: Thapunngaka shawi. That name comes from an indigenous Australian language. (Indigenous people lived in a place before others came to settle there. The Wanamara language once spoken in Australia is now extinct.) The pterosaur’s name combines the word thapun (pronounced ta-boon) and ngaka (pronounced nga-ga). These Wanamara words mean “spear” and “mouth.”
Mr. Richards says this is an exciting find because pterosaur fossils are so rare. What makes them uncommon? Pterosaurs had lightweight bones built for flying. These likely decayed quickly. Or perhaps many pterosaurs died over water and were gobbled up by beasts in the sea. No bones left to discover!
Imagine this savage-looking pterosaur soaring above you. Mr. Richards says, “It would have cast a great shadow over some quivering little dinosaurs somewhere.”
Why? God gave humans the ability to put clues together. One way we use that skill is to learn about the past and creatures that went extinct long ago.