Largest Ever “Dragon of Death” Fossil Discovered


Written by Abdulmumin Akinde

Updated: November 3, 2022

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Scientists recently discovered the fossils of one of the largest pterosaurs on record. In a research paper published recently in the Cretaceous Research scientific journal, scientists revealed details about what they believed was one of the largest flying vertebrates in the world, which they nicknamed the “Dragon of Death.” 

The discovery was actually of two separate animals together on an outcrop in the Mendoza province of Argentina. This makes this fossil the largest-ever pterosaur discovered in South America.

The Thanatosdrakon amaru is a newly discovered azhdarchid species belonging to a large family of flying predators that lived during the Late Cretaceous Period. The species’ name is a combination of the words Thanatos (Greek word for death) and drakon (which means death). This means the name roughly translates as the Dragon of Death.

Description and Size

The scientists that discovered the fossils identified them as two individuals of the same species. Based on the current discovery, the Thanatosdrakon amaru is the only species in its genus belonging to the sub-family Azhdarchidae. In the local Quechuan language, the species’ name translates as “flying serpent.”

Azhdarchids are a family of flying vertebrates known for their abnormally large skulls, which might even be larger than their bodies in some species. They also feature hyper elongated necks with short and robust bodies. 

The recently discovered fossilized specimen belonged to an adult and a semi-adult. The bigger animal had a wingspan about 30 feet wide, about the size of a school bus. The smaller one’s wingspan was approximately 23 feet wide. 

The Thanatosdrakon was undoubtedly a large animal. The discovery ranks it high as one of the largest pterosaurs out of South America and one of the largest in the world as well. Only the Ornithocheirid Tropeognathus comes close to it in terms of size. 

Thanatosdrakon amaru illustration
Thanatosdrakon’s wingspan was up to 30 feet wide.

Diet – What Did Thanatosdrakon Eat?

We currently know very little about the Thanatosdrakon’s habits and diet. However, it is possible to infer its diet by comparing it with similar species with sufficient records. From the size of the Dragon of Death’s bones, it’s safe to conclude that it was an apex predator with very few predatory rivals.

The Thanatosdrakon was a carnivore. It sported a proportionally large head with an equally massive beak to match. It most likely used the long toothless beak to swallow smaller prey whole, pretty much the same way pelicans do today. Its diet might have consisted of both land and aquatic animals. 

Habitat – When and Where It Lived

The Dragon of Death fossils were discovered in the upper-most part of the Plottier Formation. This formation was a floodplain with ephemeral rivers. It contains an alluvial deposit consisting of mudstone, siltstone, sandstone, and claystone, suggesting a continental environment that meandering rivers might have created. 

The Thanatosdrakon is not a dinosaur. However, it did live around the same time as the dinosaur. Some of the contemporaneous dinosaurs discovered include the sauropod dinosaur Antarctosaurus giganteus, the ornithopods, and theropod dinosaurs such as the T-rex and the titanosaur sauropods, among others. 

The Dragon of Death also shared the same habitat with some non-dinosaurian species, including some freshwater bivalves, the chelid turtles, Linderochelys, Rionegrochelys, and an indeterminate crocodyliform. 

Although they found the Thanatosdrakon fossil in South America, the fact that it could fly suggests that it might have had an even more diverse distribution covering a more expansive territory than the current fossil record shows. 

Threats and Predators

The Thanatosdrakon was an apex predator, which means it had very few or no predatory rivals at all. Like other pterosaurs, it must have flown on several continents. The Thanatosdrakon amaru and the other creatures with wings at the time would have hunted their prey by swopping down on them from the air like modern-day birds do. The T. amaru’s major competition would have been from dinosaurs and other pterosaurs that fed on the same prey. 

Discoveries and Fossils – Where It was Found

Paleontologists found the two Dragon of Death fossils during excavations for a construction project they were supervising. The area of the excavation was about 500 miles outside of Mendoza’s capital city in Argentina. The bones were fairly intact when the scientists dug them up.  

The area where the Thanatosdrakon has a reputation for some other fascinating fossil discoveries. One of the most notable ones is the discovery of the Notocolossus, a genus of titanosaurian sauropods, in 2016. This fossil is one of the biggest dinosaur fossils ever discovered. 

There has been no other Dragon of Death fossil discovery after this, and scientists don’t expect a lot to show up. Despite their massive size, the bones of azhdarchid pterosaurs are quite thin and brittle. This is why scientists have only found a few to date. The fact that they lived in continental habitats also limits the possibility of preservation. 

Extinction – When Did It Die Out?

The Dragon of Death lived on the planet about 86 to 85 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous era. The species disappeared along with the dinosaurs and other large land animals during the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event, which marked the end of the Cretaceous. 

Similar Animals to The Thanatosdrakon

  • Pterodactylus-The Pterodactylus was the first pterosaur species that was ever discovered. Italian scientist Cosimo Collini identified this species in 1784
  • Dear sgiathanach- the Dear sgiathanach is one of the largest species of flying invertebrate ever discovered. It ruled the skies during the Jurassic period about 201.3 million to 145 million years ago, which means it predates the Dragon of Death. 
  • Ornithocheirid Tropeognathus- this is a group of giant pterosaurs that were also discovered in the late Cretaceous formation of South America. It had a wingspan of about 27 feet which means it was close to the Thanatosdrakon in size. 

Up Next

World’s Largest Dinosaurs– Since we’re talking about a large prehistoric animal, here are some of the biggest dinosaurs that ever roamed the earth.

Pteranodon– like the Dragon of Death, Pteranodon’s are prehistoric flying vertebrates that lived in the late cretaceous.

Pterodactyl vs Pteranodon– Learn the difference between these two closely similar flying reptiles.

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About the Author

Abdulmumin is a pharmacist and a top-rated content writer who can pretty much write on anything that can be researched on the internet. However, he particularly enjoys writing about animals, nature, and health. He loves animals, especially horses, and would love to have one someday.

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