Pterosaur

Old-school paleontologists would frown upon a colleague calling a fossil find something like a dragon. Certainly in the early days of this branch of science it must have been a little irritating to explain to non-scientists that the giant bone they had found in the local careeror ground it was for some folk remedy no testifies to a legendary cryptidbut instead it was a valuable artifact worthy of preservation and legitimate study.

But if additions to the fossil record over the past few decades are anything to go by, paleontologists have cut themselves some slack. Many seem only too happy to describe their finds – and even give them scientific names – in terms that refer to popular dragon legend.


Read more: The mysterious origin of dragons


And why not? If referring to a new fossil find in terms of dragons brings more public interest and attention to your work and your field, then what’s the harm? As proof, here are four examples of dragon discoveries that caught our attention (and probably yours, too).

1. The Argentine Dragon of Death (2022)

(Credit: National University of Cuyo)

The most recent entry on this list, let’s be clear, is not a dinosaur. In fact, it is a pterosaur — the largest pterosaur ever found in South America. There were two examples uncovered in Argentina’s Mendoza province, the largest of which had a wingspan of approximately 30 feet—about the size of a modern hang glider. Dating back to the late Cretaceous period, these large-skulled flying reptiles died out more than 86 million years ago, but time hasn’t undermined their ability to impress researchers who found them.

The fossils are listed as two examples of the species Thanatosdragon amaru. The name of the species, amarurefers to an Inca deity and basically means, flying snake. The genus name is literally Greek for dragon of death. Fossils and a life-size reproduction of one of these dragons are included display at the National University of Cuyo in Mendoza.

2. Australian Spearmouth Dragon (2021)

(Credit: Warpaint/Shutterstock)

Another pterosaur whose discovery was announced a year earlier than Argentina’s dragon of death, it didn’t have nearly as much wingspan as its South American counterpart. The fossil that was discovered, however, possessed a spear-like mouth and a row of teeth straight from The house of the dragon. Dating back more than 150 million years, the pterosaur stands proud as the largest flying reptile ever discovered in Australia.

It didn’t hurt his public profile that when announcing the find, the team at the University of Queensland analyzing the fossil were unabashed in describing their discovery in the most fiery, most dragon-like way possible.

“This is the closest thing we have to a real dragon,” gushed one team member in a news release. “That thing would be pretty wild.”

When the university news release announcing the find is happy to call it a wild thing, you know it’s impressive. The paleontology team eventually settled on the official name of Tapungaka shawi. The genus name is derived from local words that literally mean mouth of a spearwhile the species name recognizes one Len Shaw, a local fossil hunter who originally discovered the unidentified specimen in 2011. The Australian dragon is currently on display in Queensland museum.

3. The Amazing Dragon of Lingwu, China (2018)

visually, Lingwulong shenqi might be the biggest disappointment of the dinosaurs on this list. After all, there’s nothing about it that immediately conjures visions of a ravenous, fire-breathing monster: no terrifying wingspan, no sharply angled horned head. It wasn’t even a carnivore, but a gentle giant of a herbivore. From a pop-culture perspective, the most dragon-like thing about this dinosaur is its name, which translates into Mandarin as “amazing dragon of Lingwu,” the Chinese city near where the specimens were found.

From a scientific point of view, however, this dragon is discovery it was both exciting and unexpected. Like Find out noted when the study describing it was first published, that 174 million diplodocoid was by a good 15 million years the oldest of its kind known to date, certainly the earliest example known in China. In one fell swoop, the discovery of this creature reset the evolutionary chronology of one of the most massive dinosaurs to ever walk the planet. This is truly an amazing dragon.


Read more: Meet Lingwulong, “The Amazing Dragon”


4. Dracorex HogwartsiaUSA (2004)

(Credit: Daniel Schwen/CC BY-SA 4.0/Wikimedia Commons)

Of course, we saved the most dragon-like fossil with a dragon name and dragon appearance for last. It was found in South Dakota, in part of Hell Creek Formation, one of the most famous and productive fossil discovery areas in the world. This nearly complete skull is decorated with horn-like spikes, an unusual configuration for this dinosaur, which was determined in 2006 to be a previously unknown species Pachycephalosaurus.

Called “a complete paleontological surprise” by no less an authority than the famous Robert Backer, the skull does present a ferocious appearance, although pachycephalosaurs were not carnivores. This particular herbivore dates back to 90 million years ago.

The paleontologists who made the original find decided to donate the skull to Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. With an ear for nomenclature likely to excite their target audience (and Harry Potter fans everywhere), the museum chose the specimen’s official name, Dracorex hogwartsia. That means – you’ll never know! — “The Dragon King of Hogwarts.”

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