Pterosaur Ikrandraco avatar was an ancient winged vertebrate that ruled the skies alongside the dinosaurs, and it looked so much like the dragons from James Cameron’s Avatar movie (2009) that it has been named after the ancient reptilian fliers. The lizard-like beasts of burden that appeared in the film, called ikran, bear certain similarities to this real-life specimen. The fictional dragons even have a similar crest on the chin like this pterosaur did.
The research on the newly discovered pterosaur species was published on Sept. 11 in Scientific Reports. Two partial fossil specimens of Ikrandraco were found in the Liaoning province of northeastern China. The area in which the fossils were discovered was once a fresh-water lake that contained turtles, fish and frogs. The Ikrandraco pterosaurs would have lived with other species of pterosaur, birds, dinosaurs that were covered in feathers and mammals. Plants from that time would have included ferns, flowering plants, conifers, cycads and ginkgos.
Ikrandraco was over two feet long with a wingspan of almost five feet. Unlike most pterosaurs it had no crest on its head. It was a toothed lizard, with about 40 pairs of sharp teeth in its beak. Its skull was long, with a blade-like protrusion of bone at the tip of its lower jaw. The lead author of the Scientific Reports study, Xiaolin Wang, compared the head of the pterosaur Ikrandraco to the head of the ikran dragon creature in the Avatar film. He also stated that the pterosaur might have stood in shallow water to hunt more than it had skimmed the surface of the water while in flight like some fishing birds do. Because its size was greater than skimming birds of today, Wang stated that the Ikrandraco might have only skimmed for food irregularly.
On the back of the creature’s crest researchers found a hook-shaped structure, which led to the suggestion that it may have anchored tissue for a pouch under the jaw. Ikrandraco avatar might have stored dead or live food in this pelican-like throat poach.
Pterosaurs lived alongside the dinosaurs but are not classified as dinosaurs themselves, though they are reptilian. Scientists divide the pterosaur into two different categories: the pterodactyloids and the rhamphorhychoids. Pterodactyloids were larger, such as Pterodactylus and Pteranodon, while the rhamphorhychoids were smaller. Pterosaur wingspan could be as long as approximately 39 feet. With Google Earth, PteroTerra creates a map of the ancient and worldwide pterosaur presence. New research regarding pterosaurs, published Aug. 11 in the ZooKeys journal, suggests that one family of the flying lizards was present worldwide. Unlike Ikrandraco these pterosaurs had no teeth, although they also have been described as looking like dragons. These toothless pterosaurs, called azhdarchids, were so large it is believed they probably needed to build up momentum by running before they took to the air.
The newly named pterosaur species bears a striking resemblance to the alien dragons from Avatar, prompting researcher Xiaolin Wang to impart the Avatar creature’s moniker onto the species. While not large, these flying reptiles left a big impression on the scientists studying them.
By Jillian Moyet