SCIENCE
09/14/2014 09:37 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Ancient Flying Beast Named After 'Avatar' Creature

Chuang Zhao/Chinese Academy of Sciences

If those bizarre flying dragons that carried around blue humanoids in the 2009 science fiction film "Avatar" were real, they likely would have been descendants of this ancient flying reptile:

pterosaur head
The head reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao.

After all, this newly discovered species of pterosaur, which sported a strange pouch and blade-like crest along its jaw, was named after the movie: meet "Ikrandraco avatar."

"The head structure is similar in this pterosaur to the Ikran in 'Avatar,'" Xiaolin Wang, a paleontologist at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing and one of the researchers who discovered the species, told Reuters. "Of course, nobody and nothing can ride this pterosaur."

Wang and his colleagues unearthed the fossils of two Ikrandraco in the Liaoning province in northeast China. These fossils, which date back 120 million years to the early Cretaceous Period, indicate the pterosaur was likely around 2.3 feet long with a wingspan of around 8 feet.

Features along the pterosaur's skull suggest it may have had several small teeth and a throat pouch similar to a pelican, which would have allowed it to catch fish while flying low over the water. The researchers plan to conduct further experiments to investigate how the throat pouch was connected to the skull, LiveScience reported.

A study describing the findings was published online in the journal Nature on Sept. 11, 2014.

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