Biology

Newly-discovered pterosaur may have been the world's largest flying animal

Newly-discovered pterosaur may...
Cryodrakon boreas is known mainly from a partial juvenile skeleton that includes the wings, legs, neck and a rib
Cryodrakon boreas is known mainly from a partial juvenile skeleton that includes the wings, legs, neck and a rib
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An overhead view of Cryodrakon boreas – which likely wasn't really colored like the Canadian flag
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An overhead view of Cryodrakon boreas – which likely wasn't really colored like the Canadian flag
The right humerus of Cryodrakon boreas
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The right humerus of Cryodrakon boreas
Cryodrakon boreas is known mainly from a partial juvenile skeleton that includes the wings, legs, neck and a rib
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Cryodrakon boreas is known mainly from a partial juvenile skeleton that includes the wings, legs, neck and a rib

About 30 years ago, the fossilized bones of a pterosaur were discovered in Alberta, Canada's Dinosaur Provincial Park. Although they were initially attributed to a known species, it now turns out that they belonged to a previously-undiscovered genus and species of the flying reptile.

The ~77 million year-old bones were first thought to be from a Quetzalcoatlus, which was already known from fossils unearthed in Texas.

In a new study involving scientists from the UK, US and Canada, however, it was noted that there were key differences in the shape of the Alberta animal's vertebrae, cervical bones and leg bones. As a result, it has now been declared a new species, known as Cryodrakon boreas (or "Frozen Dragon of the North").

An overhead view of Cryodrakon boreas – which likely wasn't really colored like the Canadian flag
An overhead view of Cryodrakon boreas – which likely wasn't really colored like the Canadian flag

Like Quetzalcoatlus, it was a member of the azhdarchid group of pterosaurs. And while the main partial skeleton was from a juvenile with a 5-meter (16-ft) wingspan, a neck bone from a larger specimen suggests that its wingspan was likely about 10 m (33 ft). Such a size is in line with that of Quetzalcoatlus, which likely tipped the scales at about 250 kg (551 lb), qualifying it as one of the largest flying creatures to ever live.

Significantly, though, Cryodrakon's bone structure suggests that it may have been even heavier – and stockier – than the Texas animal. This suggests that instead of soaring majestically through the air, the carnivorous reptile likely spent much of its time hunting on the ground, only taking flight in short bursts to escape enemies.

"It is great that we can identify Cryodrakon as being distinct to Quetzalcoatlus as it means we have a better picture of the diversity and evolution of predatory pterosaurs in North America," says Queen Mary University of London's Dr. David Hone, lead author of a Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology paper on the study.

Also taking part in the research were scientists from the University of Southern California, and Canada's Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology.

Sources: University of Southern California, Queen Mary University of London

2 comments
McDesign
I'm fascinated by the flight dynamics of such a heavy creature. Certainly many folks explain the issues away with the "thick atmosphere theory" (look it up).
Rumata
It wasn't just the "thick atmosphere", but also the much higher (30%) oxigen level, that allowed these large creatures to fly. And the same is true for the size and agility of large dinosaurs of Jurassic and Cretaceous Ages. After the collision with that astroid, a large part of our atmosphere was lost, so those large creatures became handicapped.