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A Terrifying Flying Predator The Size Of A Plane Has Been Discovered

With a wingspan of 11 metres😳

13/11/2017 11:36 SAST | Updated 13/11/2017 11:36 SAST

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's potentially one of the largest flying reptiles to have ever graced our planet, with a wingspan measuring over 36 feet (or 11 metres).

Paleontologists at the University of Tokyo first discovered hints of this animal when they dug up eight-inch bone fragments in Mongolia in 2006, but have since spent a decade trying to decipher exactly what it is they were looking at.

Now though they have revealed that it is in fact evidence of the largest pterosaur ever to exist.

De Agostini Picture Library via Getty Images

Pterosaurs are a group of flying reptiles that lived alongside dinosaurs over 70 million years ago, and one of the first vertebrates known to evolve the ability to fly, as well as walk on land.

The predator was so large - the equivalent width of a light aircraft and standing height of a bull giraffe - that it would have eaten the flesh of baby dinosaurs in order to survive.

The team had suspicions that the fragments might have been a pterosaur and Dr Takanobu Tsuihiji told National Geographic: "I immediately recognised that it might be a pterosaur and was astonished at its gigantic size."

The findings were most similar to bones dug up in the 1970s in Texas, which turned out to be a Quetzalcoatlus, and in Romania in the 1990s, which were later identified as the Hatzegopteryx - both examples of pterosaurs.

Although the findings had similar wingspans to previous fossils, the fragments were broken into such tiny pieces, it has taken the team years to piece the puzzle together and confirm they were looking at a similar animal.

Found in an area of the Gobi desert, known as the Nemegt Formation, there have not been findings in this area previously, indicating that the spread of these animals was wide, say the authors.

Mark Stevenson/UIG via Getty Images

The study, published in the journal of Vertebrate Paleontology said: "This is the first discovery of a pterosaur from the Nemegt Formation, adding further evidence that gigantic pterosaurs were widely distributed in Eurasia and North America during the latest Cretaceous."

Mark Witton, an expert on pterosaurs at the University of Portsmouth, told National Geographic there is a chance this find could be even larger than anything previously seen.