The ancient reptile lived in the Late Cretaceous period 86 million years ago, and is the largest pterosaur species ever discovered in South America, said research author Leonardo D. Ortiz David . He is the general coordinator of the Laboratory and Museum of Dinosaurs of the National University of Cuyo in Mendoza, Argentina.
In Greek, Thanatos means death and drakon means dragon, Ortiz David said.
“Amaru was chosen as the species name because it represents a towering deity in the cosmovision of some aboriginal peoples of South America,” he said.
Two different specimens were found in 2012 in southern Mendoza in the Plottier Formation, a group of sedimentary rocks containing the remains of sauropods, theropods, turtles, crocodiles and pterosaurs, Ortiz David said.
He had worked in the area for 12 years and was shocked to find the remains of pterosaurs, which were rare in the outcrops where he worked, he said.
The flying reptiles belong to the pterosaur family called Azhdarchidae and feature oversized heads, elongated necks and short bodies, he said. The wingspans of the two specimens were about 23 and 29.5 feet (7 and 9 meters) respectively, Ortiz David said.
The largest specimen has a the upper arm bone while the smaller has much of its body, legs and wings, said James Kirkland, Utah State paleontologist with the Utah Geological Survey. He did not participate in the study.
“This is a very impressive finding, because the bones of giant azhdarchid pterosaurs are so fine and delicate and very few of them are found, especially since they live in indoor environments,” Kirkland said.
The animal also sported a proportionately big head, but Ortiz David said he didn’t know the purpose of it – if any.
Kirkland also didn’t know the reason for the massive head, but the matching beak could be used for eating, he said.
“The long toothless beak may have served well to swallow smaller prey, as pelicans do,” Ortiz David said via email.
How to see the pterosaur
The fossils are stored at the Mendoza Dinosaur Laboratory and Museum.
The public is not able to view the specimens because they are so valuable, but casts of some of the fossils from both specimens have been made for viewing at the museum, Ortiz David said.
There is also a life-size recreation on display, he added.