A new species of pterosaur has been identified using fossils uncovered in central Queensland.

Research undertaken by Curtin University has found that a 100-million-year-old fossil, first discovered in Kronosaurus Korner in 2021, belongs to a new genus and species of anhanguerian pterosaur known as Haliskia peterseni.

The remains were identified by Kronosaurus Korner museum curator, Kevin Petersen, who works in the outback Queensland town of Richmond.


Kronosaurus Korner © AWOL Family (Courtney Atkinson)


Pteriffic discoveries  

The fossil research team was led by PhD student Adele Pentland from Curtin’s School of Earth and Planetary Sciences.

Studying the shape of the skull and shoulder bone, as well as the arrangement of teeth, led the group to identify the fossil as an anhanguerian. The species of pterosaur is known to have lived in areas all over the world, including Brazil, England, Morocco, China, 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,” explains Ms Pentland.

“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.”


Putting the pieces together  

Pterosaur fossils are exceedingly rare in eastern Gondwana, the ancient land that now makes up Australia, Madagascar, India and Antarctica. This makes it difficult to understand the evolutionary history of pterosaurs in the area, with almost every specimen consisting of fragmented and isolated parts.

According to the Curtin University report, published in the journal Scientific Reports, Haliskia peterseni shows that anhangueria species were able to thrive during the Early Cretaceous period. Equally, the fossil suggests that Australian forms were more diverse and palaeobiogeographically involved than previously expected.

Analysis of the Y-shaped hyoid, a neck bone that supports tongue movement and swallowing, reveals that Haliskia peterseni was likely a scavenger feeding on fish and soft-bodied invertebrates.


Kunbarrasaurus rendering. Image credit: Australian Geographic


Australia’s fossil future  

Kronosaurus Korner is home to many impressive fossils including one of the best preserved Cretacour marine reptile fossils in the world, known as the ‘Richmond Pliosaur,’ and the skeleton of Australia’s most complete dinosaur, Kunbarrasaurus ieversi. The fossil remains, which include more than 95 percent of its bones, indicate that this land-based dinosaur had a parrot-like beak, defensive bones on the surface of its skin, and an inner ear similar to a turtle.

Haliskia peterseni now joins this vast collection as one of the most complete pterosaur skeletons around.

Haliskia is 22 percent complete, making it more than twice as complete as the only other known partial pterosaur skeleton found in Australia,” says Ms Pentland.

“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.” 

The discovery holds exciting opportunities for science and paleontology, as well as regional tourism in Australia.

Featured image: Reconstruction of Haliskia peterseni. Palaeoart courtesy of Gabriel N. Ugueto.

To read about a new species of amphibian identified using an ancient fossil, click here.