Cryodrakon boreas: Largest flying animal in history identified

Illustration showing Cryodrakon boreas coloured red and grey at night against an aurora in the sky

Illustration showing Cryodrakon boreas coloured red and grey at night against an aurora in the sky

Sometimes they are grouped as Quetzalcoatlus or Zhejiangopterus - giant flying reptiles found in Texas and China, respectively - and beyond.

PARIS, Sept 11 ― Scientists yesterday unveiled a new species pterosaur, the plane-sized reptiles that lorded over primeval skies above T-rex, Triceratops and other dinosaurs of the late Cretaceous. They would have lived in the region about 76.6 million years ago during the Cretaceous period. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that contains a wealth of dinosaur fossils, where multiple species have been discovered.

An undated handout image released by the Queen Mary University of London on September 10, 2019, shows an artist's impression of a Cryodrakon boreas, a newly discovered species of pterosaur.

The remains consist of a skeleton that has part of the wings, legs, neck and rib originally assigned to Quetzalcoatlus.

Azhdarchid pterosaurs can weigh 500 lbs with wingspans of up to 30 toes. But the additional material unveiled that the remains belonged to a different species.

The main skeleton is from a young animal with a wingspan of about 5 metres but one giant neck bone from another specimen suggests an adult animal would have a wingspan of around 10 metres.

Illustration of a birdseye view of the Cryodrakon boreas in flight coloured red and white
Illustration of the Cryodrakon boreas in flight coloured red and white. Image David Maas

The invention could sound like one thing out of Westeros, however "Game of Thrones" followers should not get too excited: In line with researchers, Cryodrakon regarded much less like Daenerys Targaryen's fire-breathing dragons than it did a giraffe-size, reptilian stork.

Cyrodrakon was carnivorous, feasting on a diet of mammals, lizards and baby dinosaurs. Even though they had the wing capacity to fly across oceans, the fossil record shows they stuck close to inland environments.

Despite their large size and wide distribution ― across North and South America, Asia, Africa and Europe ― only fragmentary remains have been unearthed, making the new find especially important.

The creature, called Cryodrakon boreas or Frozen Dragon of the North Winds, is similar to the largest known pterosaurs, and is among "the most popular and charismatic of all fossil animals", according to Michael Habib, assistant professor of Integrative Anatomical Sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of University of Southern California (USC) and research associate at the Dinosaur Institute of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Dr Hone added: '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'.

Although the reptile was named in honour of the Albertan winter, "which can be stark and handsome but is very much cold and windy", Hone said, the environment during the Cretaceous period was much different.

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