Several million years ago, in the place we now know as Canada, there was a flying reptile of the size of an airplane. This species of pterosaur has been recently identified and it is one of the largest flying animals discovered to date. It is named Cryodrakon boreas and it had a wingspan of nearly two giraffes. The study appears in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
This enormous beast could grow till lengths of 32 feet wing tip to wing tip and it lived in the Cretaceous period nearly 77 million years ago. It existed with dinosaurs such as Panoplosaurus and Hadrosaurus. Although it appeared like a dragon, it did not belong to the family of dinosaurs. It was a member of the flying reptiles, Azhdarchid group of pterosaurs which consists of the Arambourgiania and the Montanazhdarcho.
These pterosaurs were carnivores and they consumed small animals such as lizards, baby dinosaurs and mammals. However, the azhdarchids lived mainly inland and were terrestrial. But the paleontologists believe that they had the ability to cross oceans by flying. Due to their preference and extremely pneumatic bones, their presence in fossils is not common.
As described in the paper, their skeleton which contained remains of the wings, neck, and ribs were found almost 30 years ago at a site named Dinosaur Park Formation in Alberta, Canada. Initially, its identity was mistaken to be the species of azhdarchid, Quetzalcoatlus which was found in Texas. But analyses conducted thereafter revealed it to be a new species and the first pterosaur to be found in Canada. Its name Cryodrakon boreas means “cold dragon of north winds”.
The main skeleton belonged to a younger individual whose wingspan is estimated to be nearly 16 feet. On the other hand, a neckbone from an adult suggests the wingspan might be till 32 feet thus making it to the comparison of the biggest group of pterosaurs such as Quetzalcoatlus. Quetzalcoatlus weighed nearly 250 kilograms with a wingspan of nearly 35 feet.
Researchers think that Cryodrakon might have possessed the same structure and size of Quetzalcoatlus with similar flight muscle fractions and flight performance. Cryodrakon is believed to be heavier with a slightly more robust neck than Quetzalcoatlus.
David Hone, the study’s lead author from Queen Mary University, London said that identifying Cryodrakon as a distinct species with respect to Quetzalcoatlus is significant for the study of the evolution of predatory pterosaurs in North America.
Journal Reference: Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.