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Speculative Evolution Concept: Ankha (Numenodraco lupofaciem)

September 28, 2014

Reaching a wingspan of 10 meters, the Ankha (also known as Sky Tyrant, Emperor Dragon/Wyvern or Baiheitianlung) is the largest volant non-pterodactyloid pterosaur ever known, and easily one of the largest flying vertebrates to have ever existed. At such a size, and being a specialised, migratory or nomadic soarer to boot, geographical barriers mean very little to it, and it can in fact be found all across the world’s landmasses, though only occuring rarely or even being completely absent from some remote islands. The Ankha is obviously present in most terrestrial habitats, but preffers open spaces like grasslands, or alpine environments.
The Ankha is a massive campylognathoidid* pterosaur, magnitudes of size larger than its closest known relatives and indeed all living flying vertebrates. It bears a thick black dorsal and facial pelage, a peach underside (throat and torso) and eye patches, grey wing membrane uppersides with white dots that become more common dystally (in some individual, the wingtip uppersides are entirely white), orange/gold wing membrane undersides and red tail vanes. It possesses a pair of “ears” or “horns” made from bristle-like pycnofibers – similar to the “ears” of eagle owls, albeit wider and attached right above the eyes -, but otherwise it possesses no extravagant head ornament. Its snout is covered by pycnofibers, some of which specialised as large vibrissae, which combined with the “raptor” like snape of the jaws, gives it as a distinctively canine-esque appearence.

The Ankha is the sole member of its “genus”, which genetic analyses place as the basalmost member of Cynoptera (“sky hounds”), having diverged from its relatives somewhere in the Late Miocene, 8-12 million years ago. Two extinct relatives, N. aquiloculus and N. insularis, are known from the Late Miocene (-7 mya) to the Early Pleistocene of North America and the Caribbean, respectively, the clade as a whole seemingly having evolved in South America, from where hails a palaeosubspecies, N. l. minor**, known from across the Pliocene to the early Calabrian stage of the Pleistocene. All of these animals are substantially smaller than the Ankha, with N. aquiloculusreaching a maximum wingspan of 3 meters, N. insularis of 5 meters and N. l. minor of 4.5 meters. The Ankha first evolved in the early Pleistocene, its increase in size possibly corresponding to the ecological vacuum left by sparassodonts and due to the global cooling and subsequent spread of open habitats. By the Calabrian, it had spread worldwide and replaced its closest relatives as well as several other giant carnivorous pterosaurs.

Hailing from a lineage of pterosaurs with raptorial tendencies dating all the way back to the Jurassic, the Ankha is a formidable macropredator, having further specialised in the art of being an aerial killing machine and taking its place as an apex predator all across the globe. Campylognathoidids are well noted for their massive, powerful and robust wings, allowing them both the kind of aerial maneuverability and speed as other aerial killers like falcons and matiff bats as well as the raw power to carry proportionally large prey, traits further enhanched in Cynoptera, which saw the advent of forelimb pneumatisation as well a refinement of the cranial anatomy, developing longer, deeper jaws superficially similar to those of theropod dinosaurs such as dromaeosaurs as well as serrated teeth. In the Ankha, the jaws are broader and bulkier still, almost tyrannosaur-like in shape, though obviously more pneumatised with large fenestrae, and bear banana-shaped fangs; the hindlimbs are also pneumatised, a trait shared with pteranodontians.

Doted thus with speed and maneuverability as well as sheer power, the Ankha swoops down from the sky like a gigantic frigatebird or skua, opening its monstruous jaws to either kill small-to-mid size vertebrates with a single bite, swallowing them whole or carrying them off to tear them apart on the wing or in a roost, or to rip off chunks of flesh from large prey like elephants, slowly decarnating its victim to death; a variety of hunting strategies have been observed, like semi-coordinated efforts on the part of two or more individuals and taking advantage of the environment, such as throwing prey off cliffs. Suffice to say, the Ankha’s diet is extremely diverse, encompassing most of the world’s terrestrial megafauna: an individual hunting gazzelles in Africa may in the next week be eating guanacos in Argentina. Overall, it is a very flexible predator, seldomly displaying particular prefference other than towards the largest availiable target less likely to be lethal when fighting back, and its ability to fly allows it the chance to earch for new feeding grounds when prey stock is depleted.
As obvious, scavenging is also a very relevant part of the Ankha’s diet, particularly in juvenile animals, done if possible from the air, ripping chunks of flesh on the wing. Sometimes the pterosaur is forced to forage on the ground, to probe better into a carcasse or to hunt small prey on foot, something that leaves the animal rather vulnerable, since the campylognathoidid massive wings make taking off in terrestrial setting harder, a problem further not helped by the long tail. As such, the Ankha only willing lands in open terrains, in areas devoid of terrestrial predators large enough to pose a threat. When it faces a potential predator or competitor, the pterosaur hisses, flashing its “ears” and wagging its tail slowly like a cat. Even adult Ankha are vulnerable to big cats, bears, hyenas and other large terrestrial predators.
Ankha spend most of their lives in the air, seldomly touching the ground and flying on for weeks on end. They are nomadic and migratory, flying about all over the world but generally preffering northern latitudes during the warmer months of the northern hemisphere and southern latitudes during the inverse time of the year. Some individuals make punctual journeys, taking advantage of natural events like Serengeti migrations of the breeding periods of pinnipedes and seabirds. While rarely forming stable territories, Ankha are mostly solitary or form pairs, generally avoiding conflict by flying else but occasionally resorting to physical violence when focusing on a specific area, like favoured feeding grounds.
As most macropredators, the Ankha has a slow birth rate and breeds every two years. In most cases, these may be timely affairs, the animals gathering in specific areas, usually taking advantage of food sources, but in many individuals it is a more individual event. Either in mating colonies or in solitary horny moods, the Ankha starts by emiting an infrasound bellow, similar to that of a cassowary, punctuated by loud honking. When another individual approaches, or simply comes in sight for the most desperate, the pterosaur emits a disturbing laugh-like vocalisation, and starts flying around the intend partner, wagging the tail in order to flash the vanes. If the intended partner feels the same, it respond with the same vocalisation, and both animals fly close to each other, touching with other with the snouts while in the air. Mating may occur on the wing, but usually both partners land to do the deed. Both animals stay with each other for several weeks, travelling together and displaying affection, until they part, and may not see each other ever again.
Like most cynopterans, the Ankha is viviparous, and after a period pregnancy of around 120 days the female lands to give birth to four to six flaplings, proportionally rather large at a wingspan of 2.3 meters. Left to their own devices, the Ankha flaplings are already capable of tackling relatively large prey, and often tend to be the apex predators of their environments, as their mothers favour birthing in islands and other isolated places. Sexual maturity is reached at around 5 years of age, while full adult size comes around at 10.

* In this context, it’s Campylognathidae as defined by the most recent studies. As in, just Campylognathoides.
** The living subspecies can be reffered to as N. l. magnificens.

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