More on Pelican-like pterosaur enters record books

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Dr. WANG Xiaolin, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (IVPP), and his international team describe a new genus and species of toothed pteranodontoid pterosaur, Ikrandraco avatar, based on two laterally flattened specimens from the Early Cretaceous (Aptian) Jiufotang Formation of western Liaoning, Northeastern China. Its morphological features has no parallel among the known pterosaur species and suggests a specialized foraging habit of this new flying reptile, thus increasing the potential feeding modes of pterosaurs. The discovery was published September11 in the journal Scientific Reports.

More on Pelican-like pterosaur enters record books
Holotype of Ikrandraco avatar (IVPP V18199), nearly complete skeleton, 
scale bar equals 5 cm. [Credit: WANG Xiaolin]

The name derives from Ikran, from the fictional flying creatures in the film Avatar that are reminiscent of pterosaurs and are depicted with a similarly well-developed dentary crest, and draco, from the Latin meaning dragon. However, this pterosaur is noteworthy for more than just its resemblance to a movie creature.

Ikrandraco avatar is diagnosed by a suite of features, including a very low and elongate skull, strongly inclined quadrate, and a deep, blade-like bony mandibular crest with a hook-like process on its posterior edge, an unusual structure so far unique to this taxon.

More on Pelican-like pterosaur enters record books
Ikrandraco avatar, skull and mandible. (a–b) Photograph and line drawing of 
the holotype (IVPP V18199), (c–d) Photograph and line drawing of the referred 
specimen (IVPP V18046), scale bars equal 5 cm. [Credit: WANG Xiaolin]

These features led the authors to propose that this pterosaur fed on fishes from nearby freshwater lakes by flying low over the water, capturing its prey by lowering the mandible in the water, being capable of a reduced and temporary skimming.

“We also propose that Ikrandraco avatar had a more developed throat pouch then in other pterosaur species. The presence of two other taxa of purported piscivorous pterosaurs in the Jiufotang Formation suggests distinct resource exploitation in this part of China during the Early Cretaceous”, said lead author Dr. WANG Xiaolin of the IVPP.

More on Pelican-like pterosaur enters record books
Life reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar [Credit: ZHAO Chuang]

Ikrandraco avatar, living with feathered dinosaurs, birds, mammals, frogs, turtles and other animals along with a variety of trees and other plants 120 million years ago in western Liaoning Province of China, has a wingspan of about 8 feet (2.5 meters) but much smaller than its cinematic lookalike. It did not have a crest on the top of its elongated head as many pterosaurs did. Behind the lower jaw crest was a hook-like structure that appears to have been the anchor point for the throat pouch, said study coauthor Dr. Alexander Kellner of Brazil’s National Museum at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. It had relatively small teeth good for snaring small fish.

Source: Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology [September 16, 2014]

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