The fossil of a previously undiscovered pterosaur, known as a “flying lizard,” has been named Lenton’s iron dragon – but you can call him Butch.
The 96-million-year-old pterosaur lived among dinosaurs and was found by a sheep grazier named Bob Elliott in Australia near Winton, Queensland. A new study detailing the fossil published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports.
The researchers who studied the new species named it Ferrodraco lentoni, or Lenton’s iron dragon, in honor of Graham “Butch” Lenton, Winton’s mayor who died several months after the fossil was found in early 2017. Lenton supported regional communities in western Queensland.
Pterosaur fossils are rare in Australia, making this only the third species to be named. The other two also were recovered in western Queensland.
The fossil was found in the Winton Formation, layers of rock rich with dinosaur fossils. The formation acts like a time capsule for fossils because it was once a basin for an inland sea that covered large parts of Queensland.
When Elliott found the fossil at a sheep station on the bank of a small creek, he took it to the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum laboratory.
The fossil included a large part of the jaw, skull, eight limb bones, five partial vertebrae, 40 isolated spike-like teeth and a large crest that once sat on its upper jaw at a 60 degree angle.
Pterosaurs were able to fly over entire continents and their fossils have been recovered on each one. Much like they are depicted in the “Jurassic Park” films, pterosaurs would have been formidable predators.
“With a wingspan of around four metres (13 feet), Ferrodraco would have been an apex aerial predator around 96 million years ago,” said Adele Pentland, study author and Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum paleontologist. “At this time, the Winton region was on the southern shores of an inland sea and was globally positioned about where Victoria’s southern coastline is today.”
Previously, only fragments from 15 different pterosaurs have been found in Australia, making this discovery a notable increase for the fossil record because it’s so well preserved.
“With a total of 30 bones preserved, or 10% of Ferrodraco’s skeleton, the number of pterosaur bones reported from Australia has now tripled” she said.
When compared with other pterosaur specimens, the researchers believe this belongs to the ornithocheirid group. These pterosaurs are known from Brazil and England.
The fossil is now on display at the museum alongside another dinosaur from the Winton Formation, a large, unique sauropod called Savannasaurus elliottorum.
“The Winton area has produced the majority of Australia’s large dinosaur fossils so presenting a significant pterosaur skeleton alongside the giants with which it co-existed is a huge bonus for science, education and regional tourism,” said David Elliott, co-founder of the museum who discovered the Savannasaurus fossil in 2005.