While best know for another flying killer of the blood-sucking kind, Romania was once home to what is now known to be the biggest and deadliest flying death creature of all time. A new study cites fossil evidence that this aerial beast had the neck strength to kill and carry off dinosaurs the size of horses. Maybe you should stop complaining about the crows stealing your vegetables.

In some respects, azhdarchids become more mysterious the more we study them.

In a new study published in PeerJ, Mark Witton, palaeontologist and freelance palaeoartist, describes the Hatzegopteryx – a giant predatory azhdarchid of the pterosaur family. The name comes from Azhdar, the dragon-like flying lizards of Persian mythology. While not dinosaurs, they lived in the same time period, had many of the same physical characteristics and probably ate each other.

The fossils studied by Witton and co-author Darren Naish came from Haţeg, Romania – an area that was once an island. That isolation allowed creatures living their to develop unique characteristics from those on what was then mainland Eurasia.

These azhdarchids were giraffe-sized, quadrupedal Panzer-storks. We have to look at the smaller, two to five meter wingspan azhdarchids, for clues to the life appearance of the big ones, but multiplying their well-known anatomy across to our giant remains creates some pretty awesome animals.

Size comparison of giraffe, human, Arambourgiania (another pterosaur) and Hatzegopteryx (drawing by Mark Witton)

Only small pieces of skull, limbs and a neck bone have been discovered, but that gave paleontologists enough to determine that the wingspan of the Hatzegopteryx reached 10-12 meters (33-39 feet). The neck bone indicated to Witton a short, strong neck for holding up a massive head (2-3 meters long) and beak used to kill and carry off prey. This differs from previous theories that the Hatzegopteryx and other similar pterosaurs had long necks. The short, stocky ones would be better suited for hunting large prey, says Witton.

I’m pretty certain Hatzegopteryx would have no problem eating all but the largest people.

Fortunately, there were no people around during the reign of the Hatzegopteryx, but plenty of big dinosaurs unable to escape a flying monster. Witton follows the other theory that the Hatzegopteryx had stubby forelimbs that, in addition to holding up their wings, were used for quadrupedal launching – a kind of galloping to gain speed before unfolding its wings to take off.

Fortunately for other dinosaurs and later humans, the fragile bones of the Hatzegopteryx brought about its extinction by the end of the Cretaceous period.

Who would have won this Romanian battle to the death – Hatzegopteryx or Dracula?

And wouldn’t Panzer Storks be a great name for a metal band?


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