(Phys.org)—A pair of researchers in the U.K. has identified fossils found in the Transylvania area in Romania as those of a pterosaur they have named Hatzegopteryx—a giant, muscle-bound flying reptile that could eat prey as large as a small horse. In their paper published in the journal Peer, Mark Witton with Portsmouth University and Darren Naish, with the University of Southampton describe the fossils and what they believe the creature looked like when it was alive.
Fossil remains of pterosaur types have been found at many sites around the world—they usually had long necks and legs and were capable of eating prey as big as a modern rat. They have also been known to vary quite dramatically in size, from that of a jet fighter to a simple modern sparrow. Hatzegopteryx is quite different, though, the researchers point out, having a short, thick neck with extremely wide bones and a spongy filling which added even more strength. It also had a much wider mouth than others in the pterosaur family, allowing it to take down and swallow much larger prey. The fossils found thus far suggest that the creature was likely stocky in general with strong wing, and back and leg muscles possibly weighing as much as a quarter-ton.
The fossils were dated to the late Cretaceous (approximately 70 million years ago) and were found in a part of Romania that scientists believe was once part of Hateg Island in the Tethys Sea. Prior digging in the area has turned up fossils of dwarf dinosaurs and a type of ancient, long-necked horse—but no big teeth suggesting anything larger. That suggests that Hatzegopteryx was likely the dominant predator on the island, able to swoop down and grab young dinosaurs or a horse at will without fear of being attacked by something bigger or stronger.