September 8, 2011
Fall down mountains, just don’t fall on me by Mark Witton on Flickr.

In 2002, E. Buffetaut and friends revealed yet-another poorly-known but clearly gigantic azhdarchid to the world: Hatzegopteryx. This animal, from Late Cretaceous deposits of Transylvania, is only represented by scrappy skull and limb material, but is thought to have spanned at least 12 m and, by my estimation, stands about 3 m tall at the shoulder. Thing is, while the remains of Quetzalcoatlus and Arambourgiania hint at relatively slender, lithe creatures, Hatzegopteryx is built like the proverbial fired-clay outbuilding. What little is known of its jaw is massively constructed and indicates a skull width of at least 50 cm. That’s half a metre… If we scaled this up to the skull proportions of the small Quetzalcoatlus, we’d have a skull 5 m long. Now, because skulls of this size are typically reserved for monstrous marine reptiles or filter-feeding whales, it’s thought that these estimates may be a bit wrong. However, even more conservative estimates of 2.5 m give Hatzegopteryx one of the longest skulls of any land-based animal, and certainly the largest of any flier. It also bears thought that the record holders for the longest skulls of land animals, the elaborately frilled horned-dinosaurs, are cheating to get their place in the record books by having much of their skull length occupied by accessory frill. The length of the Hatzegopteryx skull is almost entirely jaw, however. . .
Alas, the rest of Hatzegopteryx is virtually unknown. We have the occipital region (the part of the skull that connects with the neck), which is deeply-sculpted for anchoring powerful neck-elevating ligaments and muscles. The humerus is poorly preserved but comparatively more robust than that of the giant Quetzalcoatlus. That’s about it, but the bottom line is clear: Hatzegopteryx was absolutely enormous and it remains the largest pterosaur we know of. In fact, I have it on good authority that, based on our current understanding of pterosaur biomechanics, the pterosaur skeleton would have to be dramatically altered to facilitate much larger forms…

Pterosaurs were strange. Mark Witton is (still) excellent.

Fall down mountains, just don’t fall on me by Mark Witton on Flickr.

In 2002, E. Buffetaut and friends revealed yet-another poorly-known but clearly gigantic azhdarchid to the world: Hatzegopteryx. This animal, from Late Cretaceous deposits of Transylvania, is only represented by scrappy skull and limb material, but is thought to have spanned at least 12 m and, by my estimation, stands about 3 m tall at the shoulder. Thing is, while the remains of Quetzalcoatlus and Arambourgiania hint at relatively slender, lithe creatures, Hatzegopteryx is built like the proverbial fired-clay outbuilding. What little is known of its jaw is massively constructed and indicates a skull width of at least 50 cm. That’s half a metre… If we scaled this up to the skull proportions of the small Quetzalcoatlus, we’d have a skull 5 m long. Now, because skulls of this size are typically reserved for monstrous marine reptiles or filter-feeding whales, it’s thought that these estimates may be a bit wrong. However, even more conservative estimates of 2.5 m give Hatzegopteryx one of the longest skulls of any land-based animal, and certainly the largest of any flier. It also bears thought that the record holders for the longest skulls of land animals, the elaborately frilled horned-dinosaurs, are cheating to get their place in the record books by having much of their skull length occupied by accessory frill. The length of the Hatzegopteryx skull is almost entirely jaw, however. . .

Alas, the rest of Hatzegopteryx is virtually unknown. We have the occipital region (the part of the skull that connects with the neck), which is deeply-sculpted for anchoring powerful neck-elevating ligaments and muscles. The humerus is poorly preserved but comparatively more robust than that of the giant Quetzalcoatlus. That’s about it, but the bottom line is clear: Hatzegopteryx was absolutely enormous and it remains the largest pterosaur we know of. In fact, I have it on good authority that, based on our current understanding of pterosaur biomechanics, the pterosaur skeleton would have to be dramatically altered to facilitate much larger forms…

Pterosaurs were strange. Mark Witton is (still) excellent.

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