Nav: Home

USC scientist identifies new species of giant flying reptile

September 10, 2019

A USC scientist and colleagues have identified a new species of giant flying reptile that once soared over what is now North America.

The creature is similar to the largest pterosaurs known, yet key characteristics gleaned from a cache of bones unearthed in Canada show it's actually part of a new genus and species. The scientists call it Cryodrakon boreas, or Frozen Dragon of the North.

"These are among the most popular and charismatic of all fossil animals," said Michael Habib, assistant professor of Integrative Anatomical Sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and research associate at the Dinosaur Institute of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. "They have been inspiration for countless movie monsters, they were critical parts of global ecosystems worldwide during the Age of Dinosaurs, so they are key to understanding the ecology and extinctions of that time, and, just like flying animals today, they could carry important clues about how animals at the time responded to major changes in climate."

The findings are reported today in Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Paleontologists have been collecting pterosaur bones from Dinosaur Provincial Park in southern Alberta since 1972. Typically, those bones date to the late Cretaceous epoch between 76.9 and 75.8 million years ago and represent azhdarchid (as-DAR-kid) pterosaurs. They included the biggest flying creatures ever, with a wingspan of 30 feet and weighing 500 pounds, capable of sailing across continents and oceans. Even the smallest species had wingspans of the largest living albatross.

Yet, azhdarchids are known primarily from limited and fragmentary remains, which makes them difficult to classify or understand their behavior and biology. Sometimes they are grouped as Quetzalcoatlus or Zhejiangopterus, giant flying reptiles found in Texas and China, respectively, and beyond.

Amid this uncertainty, the researchers behind the new study identified a new species, which they say could account for some of the previous discrepancies in pterosaur remains coming from the Canadian badlands and around the world.

Habib and colleagues from Canada and the United Kingdom examined a collection of bones comprising much of a skeleton. The fossils are better preserved than other azhdarchid fossils. The scientists noted key differences in the shape of vertebrae, cervical bones and leg bones. These would have affected the spinal column, shape of the legs and size of the creature, the study says.

"This type of pterosaur (azhdarchids) is quite rare, and most specimens are just a single bone. Our new species is represented by a partial skeleton. This tells us a great deal about the anatomy of these large flyers, how they flew, and how they lived," Habib said.

From these findings, the scientists conclude that Cryodrakon was about the same size, and looked similar to Quetzalcoatlus, but was likely heavier and more robust. That's an important finding because it challenges classic reconstructions of these animals as ultralight soaring specialists. Instead, Cryodrakon may have been extra-muscular ground hunter that used flight to burst away from danger.

"This particular group of pterosaurs includes the largest flying animals of all time. Their anatomy holds important clues about the limits of animal flight and may be important in the future for biologically inspired mechanical design for flight," Habib said.
The study authors are Habib of USC and David W. E. Hone of the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, Queen Mary University of London, U.K.; and Francois Therrien of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, Drumheller, Alberta, Canada.

University of Southern California

Related Pterosaurs Articles:

Early dinosaur 'cousin' discovered -- and it's not like scientists thought it'd be
Dinosaurs, pterosaurs, birds, and crocodiles are all part of a group called archosaurs.
Ancient fossil reveals first evidence of live birth in animals thought to lay eggs
The first ever evidence of live birth in an animal group previously thought to lay eggs exclusively has been discovered by an international team of scientists, including a palaeontologist from the University of Bristol.
Fossil discovery rewrites understanding of reproductive evolution
A remarkable 250-million-year-old 'terrible-headed lizard' fossil found in China shows an embryo inside the mother -- clear evidence for live birth.
Small but mighty: Fruit fly muscles
A new study explains the nimble, complex maneuvers that allow the pesky fruit fly to evade being swatted.
230-million-year-old Texas reptile had bizarre 'dinosaurian' features
A newly described species of extinct reptile that roamed in Texas more than 200 million years ago had a strikingly dome-shaped head, much like that of dinosaurs that lived 100 million years or so later.
More Pterosaurs News and Pterosaurs Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Teaching For Better Humans
More than test scores or good grades — what do kids need to prepare them for the future? This hour, guest host Manoush Zomorodi and TED speakers explore how to help children grow into better humans, in and out of the classroom. Guests include educators Olympia Della Flora and Liz Kleinrock, psychologist Thomas Curran, and writer Jacqueline Woodson.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#534 Bacteria are Coming for Your OJ
What makes breakfast, breakfast? Well, according to every movie and TV show we've ever seen, a big glass of orange juice is basically required. But our morning grapefruit might be in danger. Why? Citrus greening, a bacteria carried by a bug, has infected 90% of the citrus groves in Florida. It's coming for your OJ. We'll talk with University of Maryland plant virologist Anne Simon about ways to stop the citrus killer, and with science writer and journalist Maryn McKenna about why throwing antibiotics at the problem is probably not the solution. Related links: A Review of the Citrus Greening...