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Stranger than fiction: Avatar dinosaur fossils found in China

Updated: 2014-09-13 07:41
By Reuters (China Daily)

Some of the most visually stunning sequences from director James Cameron's blockbuster movie Avatar involved graceful flying creatures that were ridden by blue humanlike beings facing ecological destruction on a moon called Pandora.

It turns out that an animal very similar to those Avatar creatures, known in the movie as Ikran, existed on Earth long ago.

Scientists announced on Thursday the discovery of fossils in China of a new species of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 million years ago and so closely resembled the creatures from the 2009 film that they named it after them.

It is called Ikrandraci avatar, meaning "Ikran dragon from Avatar".

But the pterosaur is noteworthy for more than just its resemblance to a movie creature.

The scientists said it appears that Ikrandraci avatar had a throat pouch similar to that of a pelican. It probably fed on small fish from freshwater lakes, flying low over the water and catching prey by skimming its lower jaw into the water, they said. It may also have stored the fish in the pouch, they added.

This Cretaceous Period pterosaur boasted an unusual bladelike crest on its lower jaw like the creatures in the movie.

"The head structure is similar in this pterosaur to the Ikran in Avatar," said one of the researchers, paleontologist Wang Xiaolin of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.

"Of course, nobody and nothing can ride this pterosaur," Wang added.

Another of the researchers, paleontologist Alexander Kellner of Brazil's National Museum at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, joked: "Please, (there were) no blue hominids during the Cretaceous."

Ikrandraci avatar, whose fossils were unearthed in Liaoning province, boasted a wingspan of about 2.5 meters, Kellner said.

It did not have a crest on the top of its elongated head as many pterosaurs did. Behind the lower jaw crest was a hooklike structure that appears to have been the anchor point for the throat pouch, Kellner said.


Stranger than fiction: Avatar dinosaur fossils found in China

Scientists said on Thursday that fossils of a new species of pterosaur called Ikrandraci avatar, shown in this artist's rendering, have been found in China. The species is believed to have lived 120 million years ago. Chuang Zhao / Reuters


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