Giant pterosaur unearthed in Argentina

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Ricky Joseph

Researchers have unearthed a huge pterosaur in Argentina, belonging to the largest species ever found in South America. Known as the "dragon of death" by paleontologists, two specimens of this giant flying reptile were discovered in the Plottier Formation, in the province of Mendoza.

The wingspan of the two specimens measured approximately 7 m and 9 m, respectively. The researchers confirmed that they belong to the Azhdarchidae family, which lived during the late Cretaceous period (between 146 and 66 million years ago, approximately).

"Azhdarchidae were known for their broad skulls - sometimes larger than the body - as well as their hyper-extended necks and small, robust bodies," recounted Leonardo D. Ortiz David, lead author of the new study, published in Cretaceous Research, describing the pterosaurs, and general coordinator of the Dinosaur Laboratory and Museum in Mendoza.

The characteristics of the giant pterosaur

Scientists have identified both pterosaurs as belonging to the species Thanatosdrakon amaru The species' name, "amaru," means "flying serpent" in the indigenous Quechua language, and refers to Amaru, the two-headed Inca deity, according to the study's authors.

The researchers determined that the two pterosaurs died at the same time, and that one of them was not yet an adult. However, they are not able to say whether the pterosaurs were from the same family.

"There is no indication in the fossil remains of any degree of relatedness," Ortiz David said. "However, it can be confirmed that both specimens are different sizes, and that the smaller one is a young sub-adult, and that they were together when they died more than 86 million years ago."

Thanatosdrakon in the Dinosaur Laboratory and Museum at the National University of Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina. Image: Leonardo D. Ortiz David

The fossils were found during excavations for a construction project about 800km away from the capital of Mendoza, which has the same name as the province. Ortiz David and his team were supervising the excavation when they discovered the fossil fragments within the floodplain deposits.

Mendoza is already known by paleontologists due to other important dinosaur discoveries, such as one of the giant sauropod Notocolossus , one of the world's largest dinosaurs, in 2016 - Ortiz David's team also made the discovery.

The author said that the fossils were in different states of preservation, with some complete and others fragmented. He was surprised by the good quality of the remains, because pterosaur bones are fragile, and usually fossils of this type of creature are found in small pieces.

"From the beginning, two facts caught our attention: the first was the size of the remains and their preservation in three dimensions, an unusual condition for this type of invertebrate; the second was the quantity of remains in the site, because giant pterosaurs are only known due to fragmented remains (with some exceptions," he said.

"The description of new specimens is always important for vertebrate paleontology, as they clarify [information about] the groups being studied. In this particular case, 3D elements of large pterosaurs are scarce, making the Thanatosdrakon an excellent case study."

The fossils are in the Dinosaur Laboratory and Museum at the National University of Cuyo in Mendoza.

To preserve the specimens, museum experts made 1:1 scale models of the fossils; the models are on display at the museum.

Ricky Joseph is a seeker of knowledge. He firmly believes that through understanding the world around us, we can work to better ourselves and our society as a whole. As such, he has made it his life's mission to learn as much as he can about the world and its inhabitants. Joseph has worked in many different fields, all with the aim of furthering his knowledge. He has been a teacher, a soldier, and a businessman - but his true passion lies in research. He currently works as a research scientist for a major pharmaceutical company, where he is dedicated to finding new treatments for diseases that have long been considered incurable. Through diligence and hard work, Ricky Joseph has become one of the foremost experts on pharmacology and medicinal chemistry in the world. His name is known by scientists everywhere, and his work continues to improve the lives of millions.