More than 86 million years ago, a predator with a body as long as a yellow school bus roamed the earth alongside dinosaurs.
The ancient flying reptile, or pterosaur, was around 30 feet (9 meters) long and would surely have been an absolutely terrifying sight as it stalked its prey from the air.
A team of scientists unearthed the fossilized remains of this massive flying reptile, dubbed the "Dragon of Death", in the Andes mountains in Argentina's western Mendoza province, according to a press release from the National University of Cuyo.
Fly with the pterosaurs
Forget about birds and bats for a second and go back to the Jurassic and Cretaceous epochs. Pterosaurs were reptiles who ruled the skies throughout these periods, as well as the first creatures to acquire powered flight, after insects, according to National Geographic. They possessed hollow bones, big brains with developed optic lobes, and multiple crests on their bones to which flying muscles were attached.
Pterosaurs reigned and conquered all continents because they simply had no competitors in the sky. This allowed them to evolve a diverse range of shapes and sizes. The smallest one we were ever able to find was little larger than a sparrow, while the largest was a 40-foot (12-meter) long pterosaur that was broader than an F-16 fighter plane.
With this new discovery, scientists now know that the Dragon of Death, or newly-coined Thanatosdrakon amaru, is the largest pterosaur ever discovered in South America. It's also one of the largest flying vertebrates known to have existed.
Hidden in the Andes mountains
Paleontologists unearthed the remains of the ancient flying reptile in Argentina's western Mendoza province's Andes mountains. Around 40 bones and fragments were discovered, and the scientists found that the rocks that preserved the reptile's remnants dated back 86 million years to the Cretaceous period, according to the study published in the journal Cretaceous Research.
This estimated date implies that the Dragon of Death roamed the skies for at least 20 million years before an asteroid strike on what is now Mexico's Yucatán peninsula wiped out dinosaurs 66 million years ago.
Needless to say, this flying reptile wouldn't be a sight for the faint-hearted. Project leader Leonardo Ortiz noted that the fossil's "never-before-seen characteristics" necessitated the creation of a new genus and species name, with the latter blending the ancient Greek words for death (thanatos) and dragon (drakon), Reuters reported.
"It seemed appropriate to name it that way," said Ortiz. "It's the dragon of death."
The discovery will allow scientists to learn more about the anatomy of the new group of pterosaurs, and surely interesting information is ought to follow as pterosaurs, lords of the prehistoric skies, are the largest animals that ever flew.