HATZEGOPTERYX

FROM THE JULY ISSUE OF PREHISTORIC MAGAZINE


To go back in time and watch a flying creature with a wingspan the size of a small plane glide across a river and land would have been quite a sight to behold. To see something so majestic and so regal coming in for a landing would have been beyond awe inspiring and other worldly. It’s really captivating to sit back and think about such a scenario and how it must have played out.
            In 2002 researchers studying fossils 70 million years old came across huge bones. At the time they thought the huge bones belonged to some type of giant theropod dinosaur. The bones themselves were in fact so large that the researchers thought they might have a huge predatory dinosaur on par in terms of size with Tyrannosaurus Rex. They were wrong though.
            After more careful analysis, researchers were shocked to find that the bones in fact belonged to a colossal pterosaur, one of the largest ever discovered. They named it Hatzegopteryx. But the bones of this immense pterosaur were fundamentally different than the bones found from other giant pterosaurs. Whereas other enormous pterosaurs were huge but built light in terms of overall body weight, Hatzegopteryx was stocky and robust. The animal was built for strength.
            Hatzegopteryx was a giant pterosaur playing the role of a large theropod dinosaur in terms of how it went about making its living and interacting with its environment. It is also worth noting that the dinosaurs that lived on Hatzeg island 70 million years ago were miniature sized by dinosaur standards. The fact that the dinosaurs living here were half the size of what they should have been had they been living in other parts of the world can be attributed to limited resources on their home of Hatzeg island. It was these limited resources that resulted in smaller than normal dinosaurs. This is also believed to be the main reason as to why a giant pterosaur like Hatzegopteryz was able to assume the role of top apex predator in the first place.
            Some of the smallest sauropods to have ever existed lived on Hatzeg island. Many of them were a mere 6 meters in length. And while these particular sauropods that lived on Hatzeg were extremely small by sauropod standards, the adult sauropods on the island were more than likely too big for even a full grown adult Hatzegopteryx to go after. It’s also important to note that Hatzegopteryx stood an impressive fifteen feet tall and had wings that stretched some thirty feet from tip to top. The head alone of this creature was a mind boggling nine feet in length. So, who’s to truly say that a giant hungry pterosaur couldn’t have gone after something of substantial size like a sauropod.
            There is currently no evidence in the fossil record indicating that any big theropods were running around Hatzeg island 70 million years ago. This simple fact left the top apex predator role open. It is the absence of a large predatory dinosaur on the island that is believed to be one of the reasons why Hatzegopteryx assumed the role of top apex predator. And with a wingspan stretching some thirty feet in length, and a skull more than nine feet in length, it’s no wonder why this huge creature became the terror on land that it is believed to have been.
            In 2017 it was first proposed that Hatzegopteryx was a pterosaur turned T.rex. The neck of this huge flying creature was short when compared to that of other huge pterosaurs. The neck was short yet powerfully built, trading length for strength. The neck was thick and heavily muscled. Hatzegopteryx perhaps had the strongest neck of any known pterosaur, thus allowing it to bite, bash, and stab at its prey. This animal would have been a true nightmare for any small dinosaur that was unfortunate enough to be living in the same habitat with it.
            Sometimes the overall perception of pterosaurs was that they must have been clumsy on land given their immense size. But it has been suggested in recent years that pterosaurs were actually efficient walkers on land. Many pterosaurs were terrestrial generalist foragers, but it is believed that Hatzegopteryx took this to another level entirely. Thanks to its robust size, the animal was able to take down prey far larger than ever thought possible for a pterosaur.
           Given its size, ferocity, and the way in which its body was constructed and built, it is believed that Hatzegopteryx would have been able to prey on all the dwarf dinosaurs running around on Hatzeg island. This is no small feat when you think about a giant bird gulping down dinosaurs. And what a horrifying sight it must have been to see a giant predator fifteen feet tall walking through the forest with its wings clipped and folded inward gobbling up and terrorizing whatever it came upon.
           Despite having a stocky build, scientists believe that this creature was still able to take to the sky and fly. The unique structure of its bones made it surprisingly light. Scientists estimate that Hatzegopteryx would have weighed in at roughly 550 pounds. This may seem like a large weight at face value, but when you consider that this animal would have been the height of a giraffe with the wingspan of a small plane, the creature truly did possess astonishing measurements. On land Hatzegopteryx would have stood roughly 15 feet tall with a wingspan over 30 feet in length, yet would have only weighed what a large black bear weighs. Hatzegopteryx was truly a unique in that it grew large enough to hunt dwarf dinosaurs on land while still being light enough to take to the sky and fly. Flight meant that its resources were not limited only to Hatzeg island, rather it could fly from one island to the next hunting and exploiting food on a multitude of European islands. Its possible that these abundant food sources were what allowed it to grow so huge. Monsters truly were real.


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SIATS

FROM THE JULY ISSUE OF PREHISTORIC MAGAZINE


While Tyrannosaurus Rex has no doubt stolen the spotlight for well over a century now in terms of overall popularity and fame, many other large predatory dinosaurs have remained shrouded in mystery. Siats Meekerorum is one of those animals. A huge predator in its own right, this top apex carnivore roamed North America some 30 million years before T-Rex came to fruition. That’s quite a huge chunk of time when you really sit back and think about it.

          Formally announced to the world back in 2013, Siats called North America its personal hunting grounds some 94 million years ago. The name Siats is derived from Ute mythology meaning man-eating monster. Ute mythology can basically be seen as the mythology of the Ute people, a tribe of Native Americans from the Western United States. Stretching some 39 feet in length and weighing more than 4 tons, this was a very large carnivorous dinosaur. It isn’t too often that large predatory dinosaurs from the earth’s prehistoric past are uncovered that could have potentially rivaled some T-Rex’s in terms of overall size. Siats was one of them. Acrocanthosaurus from the middle cretaceous of Oklahoma and Texas was another. Other large North American predatory dinosaurs include Saurophaganax and Epanterias from the Jurassic period. Siats was one of the largest carnivores ever to stalk North America.

         Siats roamed Utah 94 million years ago and given its immense size, more than likely would have been the top apex predator in its ecosystem. Being the top apex predator also gave it certain rights and privileges. Like most apex predatory dinosaurs, Siats would have had its pick of the various herbivorous dinosaurs that it shared its ecosystem with. Siats might have also scavenged off the kills of others or scavenged off dead animals that it encountered from time to time. The beauty about being the top dog is that it essentially gives you options, options to actively hunt your own prey or steal and scavenge off the kills of others. It also usually means you get to feed first if an animal is down and injured. Size has its inherent advantages. There simply is no substitute for size.

       Siats was originally thought to be a large megaraptoran, but it is now believed to have been a huge neovenatorid. Contemporary and smaller tyrannosaurs that lived in the same ecosystem as this terrifying new predator would have stood little chance if any in competing with such a brute.
          A red flower in a forest Description automatically generated with low confidence] Therefore, these smaller tyrannosaurs at the time would have lived in the shadow of the giant Siats. They would have more than likely steered clear and avoided the animal at all costs.

       Siats Meekerum would have lived in forested areas at the edges of lakes. It would have been very warm and humid in these ancient floodplain environments. Gymnosperms, ferns, and flowering plants would have dotted the landscape. The humidity coupled with the abundant plant life would have provided for the perfect conditions to grow big dinosaurs. The size that Siats attained in life was a direct result of the favorable environmental conditions that it lived in.

         The water levels in and around the lakes that Siats would have hunted in would have changed over time, with cyclical wet and dry spells. Being a top apex predator would have meant that most if not all dinosaurs in Siats’ environment would have been potential prey. Scientists believe that potential prey for Siats might have included Eolambia, a large hadrosaur that potentially reached lengths of 20 feet and around 1 ton in weight. Not a small animal by anyone’s estimate.

        In a 2014 study it was found that although Siats shared various features with Neovenator, a graceful 25 foot long, 1 to 2 ton predator that lived between 130 to 125 million years ago in what is now Europe. Despite sharing some similarities with Neovenator, Siats was very different from megaraptorans in the structure of its dorsal vertebrae, ilium, and fibula. There is still much debate back and forth surrounding where exactly Siats fits in with regards to a specific family of dinosaurs.

         It is believed that the ultimate demise and disappearance of Siats is what eventually allowed tyrannosaurs to take over and dominate North America. Once Siats was gone and out of the picture, North America officially belonged to Tyrannosaurus Rex.