Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Fugaxotitan elegans


Fugaxotitan elegans was the first wyvern to be described, by Gilbert, in 1854. This large Australian wyvern was at first erroneously ascribed to the Draconia, but further inspection by Green (1872) warranted the erected of a new group of flying reptiles, the Wyvernia. Green's approach to the differentiation was as follows: "Wyvernia is separated from the Draconia by the lack of a third pair of limbs. Wyverns have opted to take to the skies by the usual method for vertebrates--by modifying the existing forelimbs into large wings." In addition, Green noted many other anatomical differences from Eudracos. Among them, Fugaxotitan has a roughly triangular head, with a thin snout. It also has a reversed hallux. As draconologists would see over the next century, these features are fairly diagnostic of wyverns in general.

Fugaxotitan exhibits several unique features all its own. Although quite large (twenty-five feet long, fifty-two foot wingspan), Fugaxotitan is by no means the largest wyvern. But unlike its bigger cousins, Fugaxotitan is bipedal while on the ground, walking along in the manner of birds, but with the upper body held more or less vertically. This ability is achieved thanks to a unique development in the lower back: Fugaxotitan has a mammal-like spine, with distinct dorsal and lumbar regions. The lumbar vertebrae are far more flexible than the dorsal series, and permits the wyvern's unique posture. Like Eudracos and many other dragons, Fugaxotitan has developed large, caudally-directed cranial horns. Males and females have different horn shapes--while male horns are thick at the base and are directed straight back, females have thinner horns which curve toward each other toward their distal ends.

Females are about 30% smaller than males, and tend to be a lighter green color. Hune (1945) detailed the animal's nesting behavior. Females build a nest atop some canyon ledge or rocky structure with large sticks and tree trunks. Very often, the animals will beachcomb for suitable nesting materials. The nest is relatively circular and is supplemented with vegetation. Females lay between two and four eggs, depending on their age, and the chicks stay in the nest for their first four months of life. Hatchling wyverns are very small and bright green. Their skin is smooth but their wings are large.




The chicks grow very quickly, and by the time they are six months old, they are half the size of their mother. By that time, they are capable of flight. However, chicks do not stray far from their nest site for the next year. Because Fugaxotitan nests in such hard-to-reach places, mothers will actually abandon the brood to find food for herself while the eggs are still in the next. She will also find food for her hatchlings until they can feed themselves. Fugaxotitan mothers are not terribly aggressive, but will squawk and make threat displays toward unwelcome guests. Actual physical confrontations are rare and short-lived. The only dangers facing the eggs (or chicks) are young, hungry dragons. Even so, raids on nests are extremely rare, and present mothers always scare away would-be raiders.

Fugaxotitan, while tolerant of humans, does not actively pursue their company. The animals do not live near large human settlements, and indeed seem to prefer the badlands. These large wyverns have also been sighted in New Zealand, indicating that they are able to fly across the sea. Despite their size, the wyverns are perfectly happy to hunt any small game they can find, although they have a preference for pigs. There have been several sightings of Fugaxotitan taking down kangaroos. Stowers (1987) reported finding a tasmanian wolf skull in an abandoned wyvern nest!

As the original wyvern named, Fugaxotitan occupies the type family, Wyvernidae. Its features are seen as generally diagnostic of the group, although the Wyvernidae itself is not a terribly diverse family. In fact, as draconologists would soon discover, the living Wyvernia is just as fragmented as the extent Draconia. Luckily, the fossil record for wyverns is much better, so not only do we know their origins (Archosauria), we are also far better aware of their ancient relationships.

References:

Gilbert, W. E. (1854). A large new dragon from Australia with a brief comparison to Eudracos. Journal of Zoology 14(3): 213-238.

Green, L. (1872). Fugaxotitan elegans (Gilbert, 1854) and a new category of flying vertebrates, wholly separate from the European Draconia. Royal Journal of the Natural Sciences 73(1): 45-72.

Hune, B. (1945). The nesting habits of Fugaxotitan elegans. Draconium 9(3): 313-352.

Stowers, N. A. (1987). Contents of an abandoned wyvern nest in Australia. Science Notes 64: 432-438.

Next up: A small South American form, known by most as the "spitfire" wyvern.

2 comments:

AarowSwift said...

I actually have that wyvern on the castle roof.

lantaro said...

very nice! one of my favorites! the male, i mean.