Researchers have many questions about Transylvania but, for now, a study has shed light on which predator dominated the lands back in the day of what is now known as central Romania.
In a study published in the journal PeerJ, University of Southampton's Darren Naish and University of Portsmouth's Mark Witton detailed their examination of a giant pterosaur, a toothless flying reptile with a 32.8-feet wingspan, with an unusually large neck vertebra. This led them to believe that they are looking at what was once a formidable carnivore and dominant predator that terrorized prehistoric animals (even dinosaurs!) in Transylvania during the Cretaceous Period. Their findings offer the first proof of large predatory creatures at that time in the region.
Identifying Ancient Transylvania's Predators
Naish and Witton examined fossils from a Hatzegopteryx, a member of the flying reptile family of Azhdarchidae, which was characterized by extremely long necks reaching more than 8.2 feet in the largest species. However, their investigation yielded something surprising, suggesting that the Hatzegopteryx didn't have a long, graceful neck like its closest relatives but rather featured a shorter, stronger neck with larger muscle mass.
Considering as well what they have seen in other bones, the researchers said that the Hatzegopteryx was unlike any of the other azhdarchid species in that it was a dominant and powerful predator.
"The difference in structural properties between the giant azhdarchid neck bones is remarkable ... [and] suggests giant azhdarchids may have been radically different in appearance and behavior," said Witton.
He added that having a large and reinforced skeleton coupled with its muscle power would have made the Hatzegopteryx a formidable predator in ancient woodlands and prairies. Given that, it may have also been capable of attacking animals too big for the usual flying reptile.
However, Witton added that they have yet to find evidence that other large predators lived alongside the Hatzegopteryx, even when scientists have been collecting samples from the region for centuries.
And without other large predators to pose a challenge to the Hatzegopteryx, Transylvania simply provided the latter with the opportunity to dominate as a predator.
The researchers are still working on other remains from the Hatzegopteryx so they can't fully disclose just yet what kind of lifestyle it lived, although they do find what's taking shape to be fascinating. There remains a lot unknown about the species so the researchers are keen on asking the right questions and performing the right tests to make the most of the samples they have.
In another study, researchers reinforce that the pterosaur was king of the food chain but it didn't eat uniformly. In fact, it filter-feeds at times when it's not eating fish or meat or exhibiting herbivorous behavior.
According to Ke-Qin Gao, their work showed pterosaurs as evidence of the species evolving, adapting to their surroundings as they see fit. The specimen Gao and colleagues worked with, however, was smaller than the current study's sample as it had a wingspan of just 3.2 feet.
Aptly known as flying lizards, pterosaurs range in size, going from as small as a sparrow to as big as an airbus.