A giant pterosaur has been discovered in the Nemegt Formation in the Gobi desert. The large, dragon-like creature would have lived and died 70 million years ago, and likely had a wingspan of 10 to 12 meters (32 to 39 feet), say researchers writing in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. To put it into perspective, that's a wingspan greater than the height of a three-story building.
The creature comes from the Azhdarchidae family, a group of pterosaurs that existed in the late Cretaceous period. Pterosaurs (such as the pterodactyl) are often mistakenly thought of as dinosaurs. Unlike birds, which are a type of dinosaur, pterosaurs are actually flying reptiles.
This particular specimen would have been found in the arid inland habitat of what is now Mongolia. Although it had wings, it could walk on all fours and probably stalked its prey (which were likely baby dinosaurs) on the ground.
Palaeontologists discovered five fragments of the animal's neck bones in 2006 in a region called Gurilin Tsav in the western Gobi. The area is well-known for being a fossil treasure trove but these pterosaur fossils are a rare find. Bones from gigantic species of pterosaurs have previously been found in Europe and North America. These remains prove that they also lived in Asia.
The researchers believe that the new find is also one of the largest pterosaurs known to have existed, rivaling its cousins the Quetzalcoatlus (found in Texas) and Hatzegopteryx (found in Romania) in terms of size. These beasts also had an estimated wingspan of 10 to 12 meters. Height-wise they are thought to have been as tall as giraffes (roughly 5.5 meters or 18 feet).
The issue is palaeontologists only have partial remains, which makes it tough to accurately calculate the size and shape of the creature. It could be that the neck bones are disproportionately bulky compared to the rest of the body and researchers have overestimated its size. It may also be that this particular specimen is smaller or larger than its species average.
Frustratingly, pterosaur fossils are often poorly preserved and incomplete because their bones weren't as sturdy as dinosaurs'.
The researchers have not yet named the new species or even decided if it is, in fact, a new species because the remains are so incomplete. The find does, however, show for the very first time that there were gigantic pterosaurs roaming the Asian skies.