Giant 'dragon of death' with 30-foot wingspan unearthed in Argentina
By: April Carson
In Argentina, fossils from a flying "Dragon of Death" have been discovered, according to new research. This new species, named "Dracoraptor hanigani," lived during the early Cretaceous period around 145 million years ago.
Partial remains of a colossal pterosaur, known as Thanatosdrakon amaru, have been discovered by researchers, according to a study published in Cretaceous Research.
The enormous pterosaur species that inhabited the Upper Cretaceous period some 86 million years ago is the largest yet discovered in South America, according to research author Leonardo D. Ortiz David. He is the director of Argentina's Laboratory and Museum of Dinosaurs at National University of Cuyo in Mendoza.
In Greek, Thanatos is death, and drakon is the word for dragon, according to Ortiz David.
"It was amazing to find such a big animal," Ortiz David said.
"Amaru was chosen as the species name because it is a frightening god in the cosmovision of some South American indigenous people," he added.
The bones of two distinct kinds were discovered in 2012 in southern Mendoza, the Plottier Formation, a collection of sedimentary rocks with the fossils of sauropods, theropods, turtles, crocodiles and pterosaurs.
He was astonished to find pterosaur fossils while working in the outcrops for 12 years, which were uncommon in the areas where he worked.
The Azhdarchid pterosaurs, which include the flying reptiles, had huge heads, elongated necks and short bodies, according to Ortiz David. The wingspans of the two specimens were about 23 and 29.5 feet (7 and 9 meters), respectively.
Although their fossils have been found on all continents, they are most common in what was once the Tethys Ocean, stretching from the Middle East to Mongolia, he said.
Azhdarchids are thought to have fed on small mammals, lizards and even baby dinosaurs.
"They were top predators," said Kevin Padian, a professor of integrative biology and curator in the Museum of Paleontology at the University of California, Berkeley.
Padian said that although the azhdarchids were "spectacular animals," they are not well understood because their fossil record is so sparse.
The bigger skeleton has an upper arm bone, whereas the smaller one has a significant portion of its body, legs, and wings. Utah's state paleontologist with the Utah Geological Survey, James Kirkland, described it as such: "The larger individual had almost all of its body including its wings and legs; while the smaller one was mostly made up of its neck, head, and torso."
The smaller individual's bones were "somewhat disarticulated," Ortiz David said, meaning that they were not connected in their natural positions.
"It's a really remarkable discovery, as the bones of huge azhdarchid pterosaurs are so thin and delicate, and there are only a few of them," said Dr. Kirkland.
The huge head was proportionately big, but Ortiz David said he had no clue what it was for - whether it served any purpose.
The enormous head and matching beak were unknown to Kirkland, although they may have been used for eating.
According to Ortiz David, the long beak may have been useful for consuming smaller prey items whole, similar to pelicans.
The pterosaur's life-size replica is on display at the Laboratory and Museum of Dinosaurs in Argentina's Mendoza.
The remains are being kept in Mendoza at the Laboratory of Dinosaurs and Museum of Dinosaurs.
The fossils are so valuable that the public is not permitted to see them, but casts of several of the fossils from both species were produced for viewing at the museum, according to Ortiz David.
He went on to explain that there is also a life-size replica on display.
This story was originally published on LiveScience.com.
S1E3 Poltergeists and the Paranormal
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