Maybe a giant pterosaur dominated Transylvania at the end of the Cretaceous

Hatzegopteryx thambema reconstruction (Image  Mark Witton)
Hatzegopteryx thambema reconstruction (Image Mark Witton)

An article published in the journal “PeerJ” describes a research on a giant pterosaur that lived in today’s Transylvania in the last part of the Cretaceous period. Called Hatzegopteryx thambema, according to Dr Mark Witton, from the University of Portsmouth and Dr Darren Naish from University of Southampton, who examined its fossilized remains, it was likely the dominant predator in its environment.

The first remains of Hatzegopteryx thambema were discovered in 2002 on the Isle of Hateg, in today’s Transylvania, Romania. It’s an ancient island that existed in the late Cretaceous, where various species of dinosaurs have been discovered but generally were smaller versions of the species that lived on land while this pterosaur represents an opposite case. These flying reptiles could reach considerable dimensions, in this case not only its wingspan estimated between 10 and 12 meters was remarkable but it had a very strong neck.

Hatzegopteryx thambema was classified as part of the azhdarchid (Azhdarchidae) family, among the last members of the order of pterosaurs to evolve and diversify into various species that spread around the world in the late Cretaceous. Quetzalcoatlus northropi, one of the most famous for the wingspan that could reach 16 meters, is part of this family. Azhdarchids disappeared in the great extinction occurred about 66 million years ago along with dinosaurs.

After the first discoveries, which included only a part of the skull and a humerus, other bones classified as Hatzegopteryx thambema were found. The study of these bones made by Mark Witton and Darren Naish shows the differences compared to other giant azhdarchid such as Quetzalcoatlus northropi but also Arambourgiania philadelphiae. In particular, they had a long, thin neck while Hatzegopteryx thambema had a short and thick neck.

The neck is connected to other differences found in Hatzegopteryx thambema compared to other azhdarchids because the bones have a sponge-like structure instead of being hollow and are connected by large muscles to a broad skull. These are the characteristics that according to the researchers indicate that this pterosaur was a powerful predator and could even be a super-predator on an island where remains of other large predators haven’t been found.

It’s possible that the lack of large predators favored the development of giant pterosaurs such as Hatzegopteryx thambema allowing them to become dominant in their ecosystem. Unfortunately, the available data are limited because only parts of this animal are available and once again it took long years of exams to understand something.

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