Dragon-like Creature Found in Gobi Desert Likely Ate Baby Dinosaurs

Hatzegopteryx, a relative. Image: Mark Witton, Wikimedia Commons

The fossils of a pterosaur the size of a small plane were found in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia — making it one of the largest known pterosaurs to have ever existed.

Paleontologists uncovered fragments of the animal’s neck bones in an area called Gurilin Tsav. Because the remains were so fractured, it took scientists a while to uncover the mystery of the giant dinosaur. Lead author Takanobu Tsuihiji at the University of Tokyo and his team went back to the site to uncover more remains, determining the creature belonged to the Azhdarchidae family, a group of pterosaurs that persisted 70 million years ago during the Cretaceous period.

The specimen was determined to have a wingspan that measured between 32 to 39 feet, although it likely walked on all fours. The pterosaur probably lived in the arid inland habitat of present-day Mongolia. It was likely around 18 feet tall and fed on smaller ground prey, including baby dinosaurs.

“This is definitely up there with the largest pterosaurs, and there’s nothing like it from Asia so far,” stated Mark Witton, an expert on pterosaurs, to National Geographic. Although it was not an apex predator as it lived alongside a relative of Tyrannosaurus rex, the pterosaur probably didn’t have much to fear from the bigger dinosaur either.

Pterosaurs are actually flying reptiles, unlike birds, and are difficult to analyze because their bone structures are weaker than typical dinosaurs. What paleontologists know for certain is that pterosaurs actually lived in Asia and this one in particular, still unnamed, rivaled the size of its relatives including Quetzalcoatlus and Hatzegopteryx. 

The findings are published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.