In the days of Transylvania’s flying T. rexes….

New Scientist introduces us to a fearsome creature (thankfully no longer among us) that ruled the prehistoric Romanian skies like a flying tyrannosaur:

New fossils now indicate some giant pterosaurs probably did dine on bigger prey, such as dwarf dinosaurs the size of a small horse, 70 million years ago on an island that became modern-day Transylvania.

Pterosaurs grew huge in the late Cretaceous, most famously Quetzalcoatlus northropi with a 10 to 12-metre wingspan, known from a Texas fossil.

The giants belonged to a family called azhdarchids, which shared a common body plan, with long thin wings and necks, and lightly built bodies and heads.

But the Romanian fossils show that the little known Hatzegopteryx had a short and massive neck, much stronger than those of other known azhdarchids.

Darren Naish at the University of Southampton and Mark Witton at Portsmouth University, both UK, describe an exceptionally broad neck bone with walls 4 to 6 millimetres thick, triple those of other azhdarchids, and a spongy filling that makes them very strong.

“The bones we are taking out of Romania show a much more robust and massive animal than we previously imagined,” says Witton. “We assume the whole pterosaur is stocky and powerful.”

This would have made it extremely dangerous, with a mouth wide enough to swallow a small human or a child. Earlier studies showed that Hatzegopteryx had a jaw that at about half a metre wide, was unusual for the narrow-bodied azhdarchids.