In 1984, Kurt Wiedenroth discovered the bones of a dinosaur which roamed the Earth over 130 million years ago. The specimen was originally classified as part of the Ornithocheirus group of pterosaurs, and was called Ornithocheirus wiedenrothi, but it is now thought the bones are part of a new genus, which has been named Targaryendraco, in homage to House Targaryen from George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire.
As The Guardian reports, six other specimens are now assigned to the group, which consists of pterosaurs with wingspans that could grow to between 10 and 26 feet, along with narrow snouts.
“All these species are from shallow coastal environments and probably fed on fish,” said Rodrigo Pêgas, a palaeontologist at Federal University of ABC in São Bernardo do Campo, Brazil, in an interview with National Geographic. “The slenderness of jaw is the main feature they share … it’s the most extreme slenderness in the jaws of any toothed pterosaurs.” He added that the wings “were elongate and narrow, and this shape is specific for modern birds and bats that fish on the wing”.
Pêgas and his co-authors chose to name the new genus after Martin’s royal house because the distinctly dark fossils reminded them of the way Martin describes dragon bones as being black in his novels. They also noted that “pterosaurs have inspired some biological aspects of the dragons.”
On his Not a Blog, Martin described how “cool” it was to have a new genus of dinosaur named after one of his factions from his novels. “I am delighted, needless to say. Especially by the kind words of the discoverer, paleontologist Rodrigo Pêgas, who is solidly on my side about dragons having two legs, not four,” he wrote.
Fantasy often describes dragons as being four-legged creatures with a pair of wings, but in reality there is no animal on Earth with those sorts of features. Martin was inspired by nature to make the dragons in his books more realistic, by giving them two legs and a set of wings, much like birds or bats. A creature of that description is usually known as a Wyvern in fantasy, and dragons must usually have four legs and wings to qualify as proper dragons. “But this doesn’t make any biological sense,” Pêgas noted. Referring to Martin’s design he said: “I always thought this was very nice, especially because I work on pterosaurs,” said Pêgas, noting he’s “a big nerd and a big fan of Game of Thrones“.
While Martin’s dragons may still live in the realms of fantasy, they’ve been brought a little closer to life with the naming of this new genus. As Martin himself wrote: “Alas, there is no evidence that the real-life Targaryendraco wiedenrothi actually breathed fire.
No evidence… yet”.