Quetzalcoatlus (from Quetzalcoatl)
Quetzalcoatlus (from Quetzalcoatl)
Named By : Douglas A. Lawson - 1975
Diet : Carnivore
Size : Estimated about 10-11 meter wingspan
Type of Dinosaur : Pterosaur
Type Species : Q. northropi (type)
Found in : U.S.A., Texas, Javelina Formation, Big Bend National Park
When it Lived : Late Cretaceous, 68–66 million years ago
Quetzalcoatlus/kets@lkoU’aetl@s is a pterosaur that was discovered in the Late Cretaceous period (Maastrichtian) of North America. It was one of the largest flying animals ever recorded. Quetzalcoatlus belongs to the Azhdarchidae family, which is an advanced family of toothless pterosaurs. It has a long and stiffened neck that makes it stand out from other pterosaurs. Its name derives from Quetzalcoatl, an Aztec feathered serpent God, Nahuatl. Douglas Lawson named Q. northropi the type species. The genus also contains Q. lawsoni the smaller species, which was previously unnamed for many years before it was named by Brian Andres (posthumously) and Wann Langston Jr. in 2021.
Yinan Chen, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Douglas A. Lawson was a graduate student in geology from the University of Texas at Austin and discovered the first Quetzalcoatlus fossils in Texas. They were found in the Maastrichtian Javelina Formation at Big Bend National Park. The fossils are dated to approximately 68 million years old. This specimen was a partial wing, in pterosaurs made up of the forearms & elongated fourth fingers. It belonged to an individual with a wingspan of over 10 m (33 feet).
Lawson found another site of the same age about 40km (25 miles) away from the first. There, he and Professor Wann langston Jr., of the Texas Memorial Museum, discovered three fragmentary skulls belonging to much smaller people between 1972 and 1974. Lawson published the discovery in Science in 1975. In a letter to the same journal the following year, Lawson made the original large specimen TMM 41450-3, which was the holotype for a new species and genus, Quetzalcoatlus nordropi. Quetzalcoatl, an Aztec feathered serpent God, is the genus name. John Knudsen Northrop was the founder of Northrop and the one who developed large-sized, flying wing aircraft designs that resemble Quetzalcoatlus.
It was initially assumed that the smaller specimens could be juvenile or subadult forms from the larger species. It was later discovered that the smaller specimens could have been separate species after more remains were found. The possible second species was tentatively called Quetzalcoatlus. Alexander Kellner, Langston and Langston in 1996 gave it a provisional name of Quetzalcoatlus sp. Although smaller than the Q. northropi Holotype, these specimens have four partial skulls and a wingspan of approximately 5.5 m (18 feet). In 2021, this species was named Q. lawsoni after its original genus author.
Q. northropi’s holotype specimen has not been properly described or diagnosed. The current status of Quetzalcoatlus is also problematic. Mark Witton (2010) and his colleagues noted that the type species in the genus, the fragmentary wing bones that make up Q. northropi, are elements that are often not considered diagnostic to generic or specific levels. This complicates the interpretations of azhdarchid taxonomy. For instance, Witton et al. Witton et al. (2010) suggested that Q. northropi-type material has a generalized enough morphology that it is nearly identical to other giant azhdarchids such as the overlapping parts of the current Romanian giant azhdarchid Hatzegopteryx. If Q. northropi is able to be distinguished from other pterosaurs, Hatzegopteryx could be considered a European occurrence for Quetzalcoatlus. However, Witton et al. Witton et al. These problems can only be solved by Q. northropi being proven to be a valid taxon, and its relationships being investigated with Q. lawsoni. These discussions also have a complicating factor: the possibility that giant pterosaurs like Q. northropi could be transcontinental flight-worthy. This suggests that even countries as far apart as North America and Europe may have shared giant azhdarchid species. Q. lawsoni was confirmed to belong to Q. nothropi’s genus and was a valid taxon by 2021.
Quetzalcoatlus may also have an azhdarchid neck verbra that was discovered in 2002 at the Maastrichtian-age Hell Creek Formation. BMR P2002.2 was accidentally found when it was placed in a field jacket that was meant to transport a Tyrannosaurus specimen. The vertebra is not associated with any evidence of a large carnivorous dinosaur. This bone is from an individual azhdarchid pterosaur, which was thought to have had a wingspan between 5-5.5 m (16-18 ft).