Quetzalcoatlus northropi was one of the largest flying animals ever found
Quetzalcoatlus northropi Scientific Classification
- Scientific Name
- Quetzalcoatlus northropi
Quetzalcoatlus northropi Conservation Status
Quetzalcoatlus northropi Facts
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The Quetzalcoatlus northropi is an extinct pterosaur (flying reptile) that lived in North America during the Late Cretaceous. Although size varies across different species, the Quetzalcoatlus genus includes some of the largest flying creatures ever found. It belongs to an advanced group of flying reptiles characterized by toothless jaws and a usually long and stiff neck. Quetzalcoatlus northropi lived alongside Late Cretaceous dinosaurs and suffered the same fate that befell them at the end of the period.
Description and Size
The Quetzalcoatlus northropi is one of the largest flying animals to have ever existed. It lived on earth about 144 to 67 million years ago, ruling the skies along with the last of the dinosaurs that ruled the terrestrial habitat.
The genus is named after Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec feathered serpent god. Quetzalcoatlus belongs to a family of flying reptiles known as the Azhdarchidae. The specific name was assigned in honor of John Knudsen Northrop, the founder of Northrop Corporation. His company advanced the design of large aircraft with a tailless flying wing. This design was inspired by the Quetzalcoatlus.
Members of the Azhdarchidae family are typically toothless and also have unusually long and stiff necks. Their head had sharp, pointed beaks and long legs that looked like a stork’s.
Quetzalcoatlus northropi was the largest member of the Quetzalcoatlus genus. It is said to have stood as tall as a giraffe. The creature had an estimated wingspan of about 52 feet, which would make it the largest flying animal ever found. However, more conservative estimates of the wingspan put it at an average of 33 to 36 feet.
Experts think this pterosaur had a bipedal stance. Height estimates based on this assumption suggest that it was at least 9.8 feet tall at the shoulder. It has been difficult to determine the exact weight of the Quetzalcoatlus northropi due to a lack of any modern animal with a similar appearance. However, most estimates indicate a 440 to 550-pound weight range for this animal.
Evolution and History
Quetzalcoatlus northropi belongs to a family of pterosaurs (Azhdarchidae) that lived primarily during the Late Cretaceous Period. However, paleontologists have found fossils dating back to the Early Cretaceous, which means they might have evolved earlier. They evolved from basal pterosaurs. The earlier pterosaurs were smaller in size and had fully-toothed jaws. They also had long tails.
Q. northropi was one of the surviving members of the pterosaur family. By the end of the Cretaceous, this flying reptile, along with others in the family, grew bigger, and their jaws became toothless. Experts are not certain if they lost their ability to fly as they evolved, but many scientists think they could still fly.
Diet — What Did Quetzalcoatlus northropi Eat?
The feeding habit of the Quetzalcoatlus northropi is controversial. Earlier, scientists believed it fed on fish and crustaceans. Scientists have now rejected this theory because the site where the fossils were found was not located near any notable lakes or rivers.
Another theory proposed for this animal’s diet was that it was predominantly a scavenger. The diet is often compared to that of the marabou stork, which scavenged carrion but was also able to hunt smaller animals.
However, a lack of physical qualities seen in typical scavenger species, such as a hooked beak, does not support the scavenger theory. Instead, it suggests Quetzalcoatlus fed like the present-day skimmers, sieving prey out of the water.
A more recent theory suggests that this reptilian might have been an active predator that hunts its prey by stalking and attacking them. Like modern storks, Quetzalcoatlus northropi probably preyed on small vertebrates.
Habitat — When and Where Quetzalcoatlus northropi Lived
Quetzalcoatlus northropi lived in North and Central America during the Late Cretaceous Period (144 to 67 million years ago). If the Q. northropi had fed on fish, they would have definitely lived near some sort of large water source for food.
The Quetzalcoatlus northropi remains have been mostly found in places like the Big Bend National Park in the southern part of Texas in America. The bed where this fossil was found is dominated by the dinosaur Alamosaurus. Since the habitat of this dinosaur specie is known, it’s possible to speculate the reptile’s habitat too. Experts have interpreted the location where it was found as semi-arid inland plains.
Quetzalcoatlus rose first in North America, and its range gradually spread. Experts think growing aridity during the Cretaceous may have favored the Quetzalcoatlus’ spread to other parts of the continent.
Threats and Predators
Not a lot of predators would have been big enough to take down an adult Q. northropi. However, juveniles would have been prey to bigger predators, including members of their own genus.
Discoveries and Fossils
In 1971, Douglas. A. Lawson, a graduate student of geology, discovered the first Quetzalcoatlus fossil remains at Big Bend National Park in Texas. He also discovered a second site not very far from the first one. It took about two years to excavate the fossils.
The first site yielded partial wing fragments from a massive creature. Lawson estimated the wingspan to be up to 33 feet. This species was identified and named Quetzalcoatlus northropi. The second site had three fragmented skeletons of smaller individuals that were later discovered to be a different species.
It took several decades before a detailed description of Quetzalcoatlus northropi was published. Many experts have noticed similarities between the fossils of the Q. northropi and that of other large azhdarchids, such as Hatzegopteryx, which lived in Europe. The implication of this is that both animals could be the same species spread out over a wide area due to their ability to make transcontinental flights. The Hatzegopteryx could also be an European variation of the Quetzalcoatlus northropi.
Extinction — When Quetzalcoatlus northropi Died Out
The end of the Cretaceous Period brought about the demise of the Quetzalcoatlus northropi, and many other creatures, including all of the dinosaurs. Some scientists believed the Quetzalcoatlus northropi survived the main extinction event because it could fly. However, it still did not survive for too long after this due to a lack of food.
Similar Animals to the Quetzalcoatlus northropi
Similar animals to the Q. northropi include:
- Azhdarcho — This is a pterosaur genus that lived during the Late Cretaceous. Since it belongs to the Azhdarchidae family, too, Azhdarcho had an elongated neck and a toothless jaw.
- Arambourgiania — This is an extinct flying reptile that lived in Jordan and possibly North America during the Late Cretaceous. It is one of the largest members of the Azhdarchidae family and also one of the largest flying animals that has ever existed.
- Hatzegopteryx — Hatzegopteryx lived in present-day Romania during the Late Cretaceous. It grew on an island and evolved to a larger size compared to other animals present in the same location.
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Quetzalcoatlus northropi FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
When was the Quetzalcoatlus northropi alive?
Quetzalcoatlus northropi was a pterosaur that lived in present-day North America. The pterosaur lived between 110 to 66 million years ago. It was alive during the Late Cretaceous Period and died off as a result of the mass extinction event that happened at the end of the Cretaceous.
How big was the Quetzalcoatlus northropi?
The Quetzalcoatlus northropi has an average wingspan of about 36 feet. Estimates for the largest individual ever found show a wingspan of up to 50 feet. The flying reptile weighed up to 500 pounds on average.
Is a Quetzalcoatlus bigger than the T- Rex?
No. Quetzalcoatlus was not as big as the T-Rex. The Tyrannosaurus rex stood at 20 feet and was up to 40 feet long. With a weight of up to 30,000 pounds, the biggest Quetzalcoatlus would have been no match for it.
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- Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quetzalcoatlus
- Earth Archives, Available here: https://eartharchives.org/articles/quetzalcoatlus-the-largest-flying-animal-of-all-time/index.html
- Wired, Available here: https://www.wired.com/2013/11/absurd-creature-of-the-week-quetz/