Dr. Wann Langson Jr. and Douglas A. Lawson: Quetzalcoatlus northropi

In 1971 a student doing fieldwork for his master's thesis discovered a fossil bone in an arroyo bank at Big Bend National Park. Douglas A. Lawson consulted his University of Texas Austin professor, Dr. Wann Langson Jr., about the long, hollow, and extremely thin remnant and was told it could only be from a pterosaur, a flying cousin of the dinosaur. The sample was from the wing, and subsequent excavations led to more wing remnants. No body or skull remains were found, but the recovered wing measured 18 feet and represents the largest flying creature known to have existed. Lawson named it Quetzalcoatlus northropi, after the ancient Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, a flying, feathered serpent.

Dr. Langston was significantly intrigued and continued his search in the park for similar fossils. He eventually found smaller specimens that had a wingspan approximately half the size of the original specimen. These fossils were more complete, allowing Langston to postulate the approximate size of the original find: Its wingspan may have been close to 40 feet, and it likely had a slender jaw, a long neck, and no teeth. Paleontologists debate whether the smaller specimens are juvenile Quetzalcoatlus northropi, or if they are a different species. They are currently categorized as Quetzalcoatlus sp. Other possible specimens of Quetzalcoatlus have been found in Montana and Alberta, Canada.


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