Toothless 'dragon' pterosaurs dominated the Late Cretaceous skies

August 18, 2014

A new study provides an exciting insight into the Late Cretaceous and the diversity and distribution of the toothless 'dragon' pterosaurs from the Azhdarchidae family. The research was published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

The Azhdarchidan derive their name from the Persian word for dragon - Aždarha. Interestingly, this derived and rather successful group of pterosaurs included some of the largest known flying animals of all times, with a wingspan reaching between 10 and 12 m.

'Dragon' pterosaurs had a worldwide distribution once and were the last of their kind to survive on the planet, until some 60 mya. They dominated the skies during the Late Cretaceus and unlike their predecessors, were characteristically toothless.

"This shift in dominance from toothed to toothless pterodactyloids apparently reflects some fundamental changes in Cretaceous ecosystems, which we still poorly understand," comments the author of the study Dr Alexander Averianov, Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Generally fossil record of pterosaurs is patchy and confined mostly to sedimentary deposits known as Konservat-Lagerstätten where exceptional depositional conditions facilitated preservation of fragile pterosaur bones. Unfortunately, such Lagerstätten are very rare for the Late Cretaceous when most of the evolutionary history of Azhdarchidae took place, which makes these exciting creatures exceptionally hard to study.

"Azhdarchidae currently represent a real nightmare for paleontologists: most taxa are known from few fragmentary bones, which often do not overlap between named taxa, the few articulated skeletons are poorly preserved, and some of the best available material has remained undescribed for forty years." explains Dr Averianov about the difficulties studying the group.

Despite these difficulties, the number of localities were azhdarchidan pterosaurs were found is impressive and undoubtedly reflect the important role they played in the Cretaceous ecosystems. These flying giants likely inhabited a large variety of environments, but seem to have been abundant near large lakes and rivers and most common in nearshore marine environments.

Explore further: Rare 89 million-year-old flying reptile fossil from Texas may be world's oldest Pteranodon

More information: Averianov A (2014) Review of taxonomy, geographic distribution, and paleoenvironments of Azhdarchidae (Pterosauria) ZooKeys 432: 1-107. DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.432.7913

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2 / 5 (4) Aug 18, 2014
Real dragons! Is there any possibility at all of some kind of racial memory preserving the 'dragon' in our mythologies, I wonder? I know humans were a long way off 60 mya, but.... ;-)
1 / 5 (3) Aug 18, 2014
Real dragons, modus ponens 'dragon'
5 / 5 (6) Aug 18, 2014
Dragon legends most likely come from people discovering dinosaur fossils.

For example, consider the well-preserved fossils in remote areas of China and Mongolia, many of which were visible thousands of years ago without even having to dig. Some explorer finding a recognizable skeleton of a giant lizard with huge teeth and claws, and another skeleton nearby of a lizard with huge claws and huge wings folded at its sides, could easily conclude that giant winged lizards with huge claws and teeth lived in that remote area.

Such a story would get told and re-told, especially after others confirmed that the skeletons were real and not just imagined. Fire-breathing could have been added at some point in the re-telling, and with so many other fearsome qualities being evident, many would believe fire-breathing as well.

No need for racial memory!
5 / 5 (4) Aug 19, 2014
The modern version of the toothless dragon a little smaller but still impressive.
Golden Eagle Catching A Deer.
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (3) Aug 19, 2014
The modern version of the toothless dragon a little smaller but still impressive.
Golden Eagle Catching A Deer.

good video...
not often you see something like that. thanks
not rated yet Aug 19, 2014
The article says: "until some 60 my ago".
Well it was 65 remember? Extinction and all?
Level always rising.
5 / 5 (1) Aug 20, 2014
Thank you Captain, I'm glad we agree on the important stuff!

I have a friend who was attacked by an eagle on the Res when he was a kid, if his older brother was not there he probably would have been eaten.
We are lucky those extinctions made room for us.
With a 10-12 meter wingspan we would have been a small snack.

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