Winton flying reptile find 'the best'

Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum unveils rare flying reptile

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Bob Elliott may have found fewer prehistoric fossils than his father David Elliott OAM but he says he's found the best ones.

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Bob Elliott holding the fully prepared fossils of Ferrodraco lentoni. Photos supplied.

Bob Elliott holding the fully prepared fossils of Ferrodraco lentoni. Photos supplied.

Bob Elliott may have found fewer prehistoric fossils than his father David Elliott OAM but he says he's found the best ones.

Mr Elliott discovered a new genus and species of ornithocheirid pterosaur or flying reptile in a creek bank on the family property near Winton in 2017.

Believed to be 96 million years old, the find has been hailed as Australia's most complete winged reptile discovery.

Mr Elliott was also the one whose inquisitive mind uncovered 'Judy' in 2015, which has become Australia's most complete sauropod skeleton.

Related: New dinosaur discovery has world significance

"This find beats that," he said. "No-one ever really thought we'd find a flying pterosaur."

That's because their bones are more fragile than most and don't preserve easily. Mr Elliott said the fact that these bones were embedded in a creek bank meant they probably hadn't been disturbed since they were laid down.

"Others out on the black soil plains, the bones mulch round for thousands of years."

Ninety-six million years ago the Winton region was on the southern shores of an inland sea and was globally positioned about where Victoria's southern coastline is today.

Fittingly, the specimen has been named Ferrodraco lentoni or Lenton's iron dragon and nicknamed Butch after the late mayor of Winton, Graham 'Butch' Lenton who died several months after the discovery.

The name was chosen in recognition of Butch's staunch support of his community, and lead researcher, Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum paleontologist Adele Pentland said seeing Butch on television talking about Winton helped her decide to move up from Melbourne.

Lead author Adele Pentland with Ferrodraco lentoni's skull.

Lead author Adele Pentland with Ferrodraco lentoni's skull.

"I hope that if he had seen it, he would be really happy," she said.

She said Mr Elliott's lifetime of involvement with the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum, set up by his parents, had been invaluable in the find.

"He and his brother Harry drive the loader on our digs and they really know what fossils look like - it's stuff you just can't teach," she said. "Thankfully he saw this on the creek bank, being kicked around close to a sheep pad."

What was subsequently uncovered was five partial vertebrae, eight limb bones, a large portion of the jaw, skull and crest, and 40 isolated and partial teeth.

Work on the dig site.

Work on the dig site.

Only 15 fragmentary pterosaur specimens had been described from the entire continent prior to the discovery.

"With a total of 30 bones preserved, or 10 per cent of Ferrodraco's skeleton, the number of pterosaur bones reported from Australia has now tripled" Ms Pentland said.

Ferrodraco lentoni is the third Australian pterosaur to be named, with all three named species coming from western Queensland, the other two in the Boulia and Hughenden areas.

Based on the shape and characteristics of its jaws, including crests on upper and lower jaw and spike-shaped teeth, Ms Pentland and colleagues identified the specimen as an ornithocheirid, a group of pterosaurs that is also known from Brazil and England.

"It was a bit of a surprise to find the relationship with England," Ms Pentland said.

"But with its wingspan it could have easily flown across oceans.

"It didn't need land bridges - it was a big marine soarer, like an albatross."

Life restoration of Ferrodraco lentoni. Illustration by Travis Tischler.

Life restoration of Ferrodraco lentoni. Illustration by Travis Tischler.

Its wingspan was around four metres, meaning it would have been an apex aerial predator around 96 million years ago.

Co-founder of the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum, David Elliott described the new discovery as one of the museum's most exciting accessions.

"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," he said.

Ms Pentland said it would open up a lot more scientific and international tourism interest in what the museum had to offer the world.

Ferrodraco lentoni's crest and upper jaw being prepared.

Ferrodraco lentoni's crest and upper jaw being prepared.

She will be presenting at a paleontologists' conference in Brisbane next week.

The fossilised remains of Ferrodraco are now on display at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs.

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