Size: Though it’s too fragmentary to definitely ascertain this animal’s size, its wingspan was probably at least 16.4 feet (5 meters) in width.
Time Period: The Early Maastrichtian Stage of the Late Cretaceous Period.
Locale: The Allen Formation of Argentina, a place that was also home to Willinakaqe and Austroraptor, the former of which has been covered on this blog.
Name: The generic name means ‘air titan,’ thanks to this animal’s large size and airborne lifestyle. The specific name means ‘of South America,’ because Aerotitan was found in South America.
I’ve mentioned that animals such as Quetzalcoatlus and Hatzegopteryx are macho pterosaurs. These huge creatures were very interesting and were probably also threatening. Here, I report a fairly new one, and the first confirmed azhdarchid from South America, Aerotitan.
This creature is known only from a rostrum, or the part of the head at the end of the beak. It was a toothless animal, and probably had a spearlike beak like its fellow azhdarchids. Its snout was very long and compressed transversely. The animal, like Hatzegopteryx and company, was a semi-terrestrial predator that lived much like a modern-day stork.
The real subject of this post isn’t about Aerotitan itself, it’s about it and the many other azhdarchid taxa that have been assigned. These animals all looked very similar, and are known from similar and fragmentary evidence. This makes me question just how many of these animals were distinct taxa. Here, I propose the theory that, since azhdarchids were such large flying creatures, they could fly from continent to continent and colonize the world without being very distinct taxa. Though this is a bit Paulian in a sense (and I don’t like lumping a bunch of taxa into a genus no matter how convenient it is), this large amount of taxa has always seemed a bit questionable to me. Though I could be wrong, it’s always a little bit tricky to assign taxa.
So, though Aerotitan seems like a distinct taxa, I’ve nursed my misgivings about it for a while now. The truth is, most of the azhdarchids can’t be definitely grouped outside of a single genus. Quetzalcoatlus and Hatzegopteryx, for example, aren’t distinct save for their locations on the globe. Though research might or might not prove me wrong, I can still have my opinion.
Note: I’m sorry that this post is so short. It’s hard to blog about such a poorly-known taxon.
As part of a defensive strategy, extant animals occasionally pretend to prepare to run away or take off, presumably demonstrating to would-be aggressors that they are already aware of the potential threat. Here, a Nyctosaurus falls somewhere between dummy-launching and launching.