Cryodrakon boreas: Meet the ‘Cold Dragon of the North Winds,' a Gigantic Canadian Pterosaur

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Cryodrakon boreas. Image credit: David Maas.

Cretaceous pterosaur remains discovered in the Dinosaur Park Formation in Alberta have been identified as a new genus and species, Cryodrakon boreas.

Cryodrakon boreas lived about 77 million years ago and had a wingspan of 33 feet (10 m).

The flying reptile belongs to Azhdarchidae, a family of pterosaurs known primarily from the Late Cretaceous period.

Its fossilized remains — consisting of a skeleton that has part of the wings, legs, neck and a rib — were discovered three decades ago, but paleontologists had assumed they belonged to Quetzalcoatlus, an already known species of pterosaur discovered in Texas.

“This is a cool discovery, we knew this animal was here but now we can show it is different to other azhdarchids and so it gets a name,” said lead author Dr. David Hone, from the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences at Queen Mary University of London.

“This type of pterosaur (azhdarchids) is quite rare, and most specimens are just a single bone. Our new species is represented by a partial skeleton. This tells us a great deal about the anatomy of these large flyers, how they flew, and how they lived,” said Dr. Michael Habib, from the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California and the Dinosaur Institute of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Cryodrakon boreas. Image credit: David Maas.

Like other azhdarchids, Cryodrakon boreas was carnivorous and predominantly predated on small animals which would likely include lizards, mammals and even baby dinosaurs.

“It is great that we can identify Cryodrakon boreas as being distinct to Quetzalcoatlus as it means we have a better picture of the diversity and evolution of predatory pterosaurs in North America,” Dr. Hone said.

“This particular group of pterosaurs includes the largest flying animals of all time. Their anatomy holds important clues about the limits of animal flight and may be important in the future for biologically inspired mechanical design for flight,” Dr. Habib added.

“Unlike most pterosaur groups, azhdarchids are known primarily from terrestrial settings and, despite their likely capacity to cross oceanic distances in flight, they are broadly considered to be animals that were adapted for, and lived in, inland environments,” the researchers said.

“Despite their large size and a distribution across North and South America, Asia, Africa and Europe, few azhdarchids are known from more than fragmentary remains.”

“This makes Cryodrakon boreas an important animal since it has very well preserved bones and includes multiple individuals of different sizes.”

The discovery is reported in a paper published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.


David W.E. Hone et alCryodrakon boreas, gen. et sp. nov., a Late Cretaceous Canadian azhdarchid pterosaur. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, published online September 9, 2019; doi: 10.1080/02724634.2019.1649681