New dinosaur named 'dragon of death' even though it doesn't

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As common and beloved as dragons are in the games we play, I am sad to report they aren't actually real. Trust me on this: I spent about an hour looking at the sky this morning and I only saw birds, airplanes, and a couple of hippogriffs up there.

On the plus side, paleontologists have unearthed the next best thing to an actual dragon. The fossils of a huge new species of pterosaur have been discovered, and the massive flying reptile has been named the "dragon of death" by paleontologists.

Dragon of death. That's my kinda name. I could easily imagine it being a boss in a fantasy game. And the official species is called Thanatosdrakon amaru, which I think sounds even more badass.

The discovery was made (opens in new tab) during the excavation for a construction project in Argentina's Mendoza Province. (This occurred back in 2012, but you know paleontologists, they have to use those tiny brushes on those fragile dinosaur bones, and that takes a while.) Two different specimens of the new pterosaur were found, and it truly was a tremendous beast—the wingspan of the larger of the two dragons measure about 30 feet. The dinosaur would stand roughly the same height as a giraffe while on the ground, according to project leader Leonardo Ortiz, one of the paleontologists who made the discovery and came up with the killer name.

On the other hand, the scientific illustration of the dinosaur is, well… maybe a bit underwhelming for the "dragon of death" moniker. Maybe it's the goofy long neck, the skinny ankles and tiny wing-hands, or the oversized head that makes it look like the dragon's noggin would be flopping around like one of those dancing car wash balloon men. Or maybe the issue is that it's beige, like the interior of a rented Hyundai Elantra? Anyway, it doesn't look particularly fearsome, though it no doubt was.

I'm not saying I don't like it! It's a very impressive giant flying dinosaur, and I have no doubt it would easily kill me if it hadn't died 86 million years ago. And scientists need to be accurate and not embellish their findings, which I can appreciate. At the same time, it's hard to see the words "dragon of death" and not wish it looked a bit more like something out of a D&D manual. Scales. Teeth. Pile of treasure. And so on.

Some other details reported by the BBC: despite those huge wings and the fact that this was likely one of the earliest airborne predators on our planet, the dragon of death most likely spent most of its time on the ground (like a giraffe of death). The fact that the two specimens were found together also suggests these dinosaurs lived in groups. (They're moving in herds. They do move in herds.) 

We'll learn more about the Thanatosdrakon amaru in the September 2022 volume of Cretaceous Research. Thanks, Livescience.

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