Skeleton of ‘demonic pelican’ discovered in outback

Keira Jenkins |

Adele Pentland says the flying reptile probably ate fish and squid-like creatures.
Adele Pentland says the flying reptile probably ate fish and squid-like creatures.

The skeleton of a fearsome predator dubbed a “demonic pelican” has been unearthed, 100 million years after soaring over inland Australia.

The new species of pterosaur, a flying reptile which would have lived during the age of dinosaurs, was discovered outside the rural town of Richmond in western Queensland.

Adele Pentland, who led the Curtin University research team that identified the new species, said the creature had a wingspan of 4.6 metres.

“They’ve been described as being a sort of demonic pelican,” she told AAP.

“They had these big jaws filled with rows of spike-shaped teeth and the head of this animal would have been about 60 centimetres.”

The area where the fossilised remains were found was once covered by an inland sea, which Ms Pentland said would have been the pterosaur’s food source. 

“It was probably eating fish and squid-like creatures,” the Curtin University PhD candidate said.

“We find bones of plesiosaurs – marine reptiles – and there are certainly many fish fossils found out this way too.”

The fossilised remains were unearthed by Kronosaurus Korner museum curator Kevin Petersen in 2021, and identified by the Curtin University team as Haliskia peterseni. 

“I’m thrilled that my discovery is a new species, as my passion lies in helping shape our modern knowledge of prehistoric species,” Mr Petersen said.

The skeleton is 22 per cent complete, including the entire lower jaws, the tip of the upper jaw, 43 teeth, ribs, bones from both wings and part of the leg. 

Ms Pentland said it was the most complete pterosaur skeleton found in Australia.

“There’s only one other partial pterosaur skeleton from Australia and it’s 10 per cent complete,” she said.

“To know there’s potentially more material out there if more digs continue … that’s an absolutely incredible feeling.”

The Haliskia peterseni is on display at Kronosaurus Korner in the Queensland outback town of Richmond, which Ms Pentland said would boost paleo-tourism in the region. 

“It’s just another amazing fossil that people can come see,” she said.

“The area has been drought-affected for a number of years so the money that’s brought into these small towns through tourism really makes a big difference.”