Giant but toothless flying predators may have once dominated the skies of ancient Romania, particularly Transylvania, a new study in England revealed.
Known as pterosaurs, meaning winged lizards, these now-extinct reptiles had a wingspan of 10 meters (393.7 inches) and flourished during the Mesozoic era more than 250 million years ago.
Scientists Mark Witton from University of Portsmouth and Darren Naish from University of Southampton investigated these creatures and examined their big neck vertebra, focusing on a species called Hatzegopteryx.
Evidence suggests that these reptiles were once formidable carnivores that terrorized dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals during the Cretaceous period in Transylvania.
Powerful and Dominant Creatures
Witton and Naish carefully studied the remains of the Hatzegopteryx, a creature that belongs to the reptile group called azhdarchidae. The Hatzegopteryx's tubular neck bones typically stretch at least 2.5 meters (98.4 inches) in length in the largest species.
However, the pair's investigation revealed that the Hatzegopteryx did not possess the elongated and gracile necks of its relatives, and that it actually had a shorter, stronger neck with large muscular masses. It also had a jaw joint that indicates reinforced limb bones and a half-meter wide skull.
All these point to the possibility that the Hatzegopteryx must have been a powerful and dominant predator in ancient Romania, said Witton.
He explained that the difference between the structure of the azhdarchid's neck and that of the hatzegopteryx is remarkable because they each have different biomechanical leagues.
"This ... suggests giant azhdarchids may have been radically different in appearance and behavior," said Witton.
The creature's large skeleton may have been powerful enough to make it a formidable predator of animals that stalked prairies and woodlands. It may have been strong enough to attack animals that were too large and vigorous, added Witton.
Life In Cretaceous Transylvania
The Hatzegopteryx had lived in a peculiar ecosystem where many of the dinosaurs either dwarfed or belonged to lineages that were extinct in the Cretaceous world.
Researchers say ancient Transylvania is still a mystery because experts have yet to find evidence of large predatory animals that lived alongside the Hatzegopteryx.
Because there were no other large predators on the island, Witton and Naish suggest that the island provided an opportunity for the Hatzegopteryx to become dominant predators.
Meanwhile, details about the Hatzegopteryx's life are still unknown to scientists because they are still working on scraps of its remains. Witton and Naish's study reflect how little is known about these powerful creatures.
The findings of the report are published in the journal Peerj.