The Hateg basin wing, Hatzegopteryx (2002)
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Reptilia
Order : Pterosauria
Family : Azhdarchidae
Genus : Hatzegopteryx
Species : H. thambema
- Late Cretaceous (70 - 66 Ma)
- 11 m wingspan and 100 kg (size)
- Hunedoara county, Romania (map)
Hatzegopteryx poses a puzzle worthy of a TV detective show. To judge from this reptile’s incomplete remains, including pieces of its skull and humerus, Hatzegopteryx may have been the largest pterosaur that ever lived, with a wingspan possibly approaching 40 feet (compared to “only” 35 feet or so for the biggest known pterosaur, Quetzalcoatlus). Even the skull of Hatzegopteryx was gigantic, one reconstruction pegging it at over ten feet long, which would count as the biggest noggin of any non-marine creature in earth’s history.
So what’s the mystery? Well, apart from the elusive nature of Hatzegopteryx’s fossil remains—it’s a tricky business to reconstruct an extinct animal from only a handful of bones—there’s the fact that this pterosaur lived on Hatzeg Island, which was isolated from the rest of Europe during the late Cretaceous period. The dinosaurs that lived on Hatzeg Island, most notably Telmatosaurus and Magyarosaurus, were much smaller than their mainland contemporaries, an example of “insular dwarfism” (that is, creatures on small islands tend to evolve to small sizes, so as not to outgrow the available resources). Why would such a huge pterosaur have lived on an island populated by dwarf dinosaurs? Until more fossil evidence is uncovered, we may never know the answer for sure.