Researchers find the closest thing to a 'real-life dragon' lived over 150 million years ago in Australia

The iconic dragons from Game of Thrones may not be real, but something very similar to them existed in Australia over 150 million years ago, according to new research.

A team from the University of Queensland analyzed a jaw fossil found in the northeastern part of Queensland over 10 years ago. What they found was a skull of a pterosaur, a flying dinosaur that was Australia's largest flying reptile.

“It’s the closest thing we have to a real-life dragon,” doctoral candidate Tim Richards said in a statement. "This thing would have been quite savage."

The findings were published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology on Monday.

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In addition to a wingspan measuring as long as a school bus, the dinosaur had a 3-foot-long head and around 40 sharp teeth, perfect for grabbing fish and small dinosaurs to eat. Researchers believe the creature roamed around the region in an area once covered by the prehistoric Eromanga Sea.

“The new pterosaur, which we named Thapunngaka shawi, would have been a fearsome beast, with a spear-like mouth and a wingspan around seven meters," Richards said. "It would have cast a great shadow over some quivering little dinosaur that wouldn’t have heard it until it was too late."

Artist’s impression of the fearsome Thapunngaka shawi.
Artist’s impression of the fearsome Thapunngaka shawi.

The discovery of the creature's fossils is rare, according to Richards, as pterosaur bones were thin, hollow and fragile. It is the third type of pterosaur found in Australia.

“Pterosaurs don’t preserve well,” Richards told The Guardian. “Most of these things likely fell into the sea on death and were gobbled up by predatory beasts in the sea. A lot of them would never have made it to the seafloor to start that fossilization process.”

Tim Richards with the skull of an anhanguerian pterosaur.
Tim Richards with the skull of an anhanguerian pterosaur.

The name Thapunngaka shawi incorporates words from the now-extinct language of the Wanamara Nation, one of the country's Indigenous First Peoples groups. The terms "thapun" and "ngaka" are the Wanamara words for "spear" and "mouth," according to the study's co-author, Steve Salisbury.

The name "shawi" comes from from the fossil's discoverer Len Shaw, meaning the name is, "Shaw's spear mouth." The fossil can be seen at the Kronosaurus Korner museum in Richmond, Queensland.

Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jord_mendoza.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fossils of pterosaur dinosaur in Australia like a real life dragon