2019 A new Australian winged reptile
In 2017 on the banks of a creek on a remote property outside of Winton local grazier Bob Elliott discovered parts of what would become the most complete pterosaur ever found in Australia. He identified parts of the lower jaw, incomplete bones from the wing and a partial tooth. Pterosaur fossils are rare in Australia with fewer than 20 specimens reported. Their rarity is due to the hollow nature of their bones, as well as the limited outcrop of Mesozoic rock found in Australia. This large pterosaur, represented by a single well-preserved specimen, would have soared across the skies of prehistoric Winton 96 million years ago, and was most like an apex predator. Analysis of the bones indicate that this pterosaur was fully grown at the time of its death, with a wingspan of around four metres.
Research indicates that this Australian pterosaur was more closely related to pterosaurs from England than to pterosaurs from South America. This supports the hypothesis that these large, winged reptiles could easily travel across oceans. Ferrodraco also might represent a late-surviving member of the group of pterosaurs known as Anhangueria; however, more precise age constraints are needed for the type locality to prove this.
Named Ferrodraco lentoni, the species name honours former Winton Shire Mayor Graham Thomas ‘Butch’ Lenton, for his years of service to the Winton community and in recognition for his support of the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History. The pterosaur specimen is also nicknamed ‘Butch’ in his honour and is now on permanent public display at the Museum.
2018 Sauropod trackway
In 2018, at the edge of a creek channel on a remote property just outside of Winton, dinosaur tracks were discovered. At double the length of two basketball courts, the tracks extend over 50m and include three distinct dinosaur types: huge sauropods, small to medium–sized ornithopods and tiny theropods. This is significant as finding the footprints of small dinosaurs associated with those of large ones is unusual, although not entirely unprecedented. These well preserved inchnofossils represent a few days, 95 million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed western Queensland.
These tracks are the first recorded evidence of substantial walking tracks for sauropods in Australia and the first Cretaceous-aged sequence of solitary ornithopod tracks in Australia. Research and interpretation of the new site will provide insight into the speeds, gaits and body sizes of the dinosaurs as well as the herd dynamics of sauropod dinosaurs.
The new site was first exposed in January/February 2000 when a small creek changed its course following large-scale flooding in the Winton district. However, the presence of dinosaur tracks was not recognised by landowners at this time. Repeated rain and flood events have since taken their toll on the fossilised tracks so that many of them now require major restoration. Excavation works carried out by the Museum in April 2018 uncovered an exceptionally well-preserved extension of the trackway but, as the majority of these new tracks are in fragile unconsolidated sandstone and are below water level in the creek bed, they will be lost forever if they are not recovered urgently.
The scientific value of these tracks make them a national treasure of international relevance and, once safely removed to the Museum, they will provide regional Queensland with a major tourism and heritage asset. Relocating the entire trackway to the Museum is a massive undertaking and is going to take many months of staff and volunteer labour to complete but their conservation is an absolute priority. These tracks will be on show to the public by late 2020.