Phosphatodraco

Phosphatodraco is a genus of azhdarchid pterosaur that lived during the Late Cretaceous of what is now Morocco. In 2000, a pterosaur specimen consisting of five cervical (neck) vertebrae was discovered in the Ouled Abdoun Phosphatic Basin. The specimen was made the holotype of the new genus and species Phosphatodraco mauritanicus in 2003; the genus name means "dragon from the phosphates", and the specific name refers to the region of Mauretania. Phosphatodraco was the first Late Cretaceous pterosaur known from North Africa, and the second pterosaur genus described from Morocco. It is one of the only known azhdarchids preserving a relatively complete neck, and was one of the last known pterosaurs. Additional cervical vertebrae have since been assigned to the genus, and it has been suggested that fossils of the pterosaur Tethydraco represent wing elements of Phosphatodraco.

Phosphatodraco
Temporal range: Late Cretaceous, 66 Ma
Assigned C5 cervical (neck) vertebra in multiple views
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Order: Pterosauria
Suborder: Pterodactyloidea
Family: Azhdarchidae
Subfamily: Quetzalcoatlinae
Genus: Phosphatodraco
Pereda-Suberbiola et al., 2003
Type species
Phosphatodraco mauritanicus
Pereda-Suberbiola et al., 2003

Due to the fragmentary nature of the holotype cervical vertebrae, there has been controversy over their order. The describers considered them as cervicals (abbreviated as C) C5–C9 in the series, the first preserved vertebra (C5) being broken in two, but others consider them C3–C8, C3 and C4 being two different vertebrae. The interpretation followed has consequences for how Phosphatodraco is distinguished from other azhdarchids and how large it is thought to have been; the describers considered it to have had a wingspan of 5 m (16 ft); the alternate interpretation would lead to a 4 m (13 ft) wingspan. The complete neck may have been 865 mm (2 ft 10 in) long. Phosphatodraco is mainly distinguished by its C8 (or C7) vertebra being very elongated, 50% longer than the C5, and in having a prominent neural spine that is almost as tall as the centrum (the main part of the vertebra), truncated in a square shape at the top, and located far back. As an azhdarchid, it would have had a proportionally long neck, small body, and long limbs, compared to other pterosaurs.

The closest relatives of Phosphatodraco appear to have been Aralazhdarcho and Eurazhdarcho. Azhdarchids have historically been considered skim-feeders that caught prey from water in coastal settings, but it has since been suggested that the context in which their fossils are found and their morphology  such as their long, stiffened necks (informed by for example the neck of Phosphatodraco)  is more consistent with them having foraged terrestrially like storks or ground hornbills, but this is still debated. Although pterosaurs were thought to have declined in diversity towards the time of their extinction 66 million years ago, the diversity in taxa, including Phosphatodraco, in the Ouled Abdoun Basin, which dates to the late Maastrichtian, right before the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event, indicates their extinction happened abruptly.


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