Feeds

Gigantic toothless 'DRAGONS' dominated Earth's early skies

Gummy pterosaurs outlived toothy competitors

Security for virtualized datacentres

A new study by Russian paleontologists has revealed the dominance of a species of huge flying lizards that once flew over Earth's skies.

Azhdarchid pterosaurs

Azhdarchid pterosaurs ... creatures the size of small aircraft encircled the globe

The creatures, named Azhdarchid pterosaurs after the Persian word Aždarha meaning dragon, had wingspans of between 10 and 12 metres wide and fragmentary fossil records have been found worldwide, suggesting a very successful species.

This family of pterosaurs was unusual, since they lacked teeth. Earlier pterosaurs did have a fine set of chompers but were outlived by the Azhdarchids that lacked their dental prowess. The giant toothless dragons survived until the species died out about 60 million years ago.

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

Pterosaurs are thought to be the first vertebrates that slipped the surly bonds of Earth and took to the skies, and the species lasted from about 220 million years ago until shortly (in geological terms) after the Chicxulub asteroid impact that devastated the dinosaurs.

These early aviators lacked the feathers of modern birds and had wings of skin that were occasionally covered by fine hairs for warmth. The wings spread behind a very long fourth finger that kept the wings taut and, when on the ground, acted as forelimbs for quadrupedal locomotion.

Like birds, however, the pterosaurs had hollow bones to save on weight and allow for flight. This makes studying their remains problematic, but Averianov collected material found in the past 40 years for the study into the range of the Azhdarchid family.

"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," he said.

Little is known about their eating habits, but it appears from the fossil record that they would cluster near large lakes and rivers and marine environment, suggesting they enjoyed fish and other marine life over the elephants favored by the mythical rocs described by Marco Polo. ®

Security for virtualized datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Boffins who stare at goats: I do believe they’re SHRINKING
Alpine chamois being squashed by global warming
What's that STINK? Rosetta probe shoves nose under comet's tail
Rotten eggs, horse dung and almonds – yuck
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
Kip Thorne explains how he created the black hole for Interstellar
Movie special effects project spawns academic papers on gravitational lensing
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
LONG ARM of the SAUR: Brachially gifted dino bone conundrum solved
Deinocheirus mirificus was a bit of a knuckle dragger
Moment of truth for LOHAN's servos: Our US allies are poised for final test flight
Will Vulture 2 freeze at altitude? Edge Research Lab to find out
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
New hybrid storage solutions
Tackling data challenges through emerging hybrid storage solutions that enable optimum database performance whilst managing costs and increasingly large data stores.