Around 85 million years ago Kansas was covered by a warm, shallow sea, and in the sky above, fish-eating pteranodontids soared, on the hunt for their next meal. Pteranodon was one of the first pterosaurs discovered in the American West in the 19th century. Hundreds of fragmentary specimens have been recovered from the Upper Cretaceous Niobrara Formation, and when first uncovered the holotype specimen of Dawndraco kanzai was considered a specimen of Pteranodon sternbergi. In 2010, Alexander Kellner published a paper describing several specimens previously considered to be examples of the two known species of Pteranodon, P. sternbergi and P. longiceps. In it, he named two new species, Geosternbergia maiseyi and Dawndraco kanzai based on specimens he considered not to be members of known species.
Dawndraco was a pteranodontid, and like all pteranodontids it had a long toothless beak with upturned tips, and a crest at the back of its skull. Pteranodontids had long narrow wings and short necks and are thought to have soared over the open sea. All known pteranodontids are found in Upper Cretaceous rocks of the Niobrara Formation and Pierre Shale in the central United States. At the time, a warm, shallow sea stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean. Dawndraco and the other pteranodontids hunted fish and squid in that sea and may have dove underwater.
The holotype – and so far only known specimen of Dawndraco – consists of a partial skull and mandible, and most of the remainder of the skeleton except the distal portions of the wings and legs. Kellner considered Dawndraco to be different from both species of Pteranodon for a number of reasons. First, Kellner noted that the snout had parallel upper and lower margins, rather than tapering to a point like most other pteranodontids, and appears to have had a substantial overbite. Dawndraco also seems to have a unique crest morphology, although it is incomplete and is subject to interpretation. The front edge of the crest emerges from the skull roof just in front of the eyes and rises steeply, similar to what's seen in P. sternbergi. However Dawndraco's crest has a very narrow base, which is more similar to P. longiceps. Because only the base of the crest is preserved it is unknown what shape it would have in life, and may have been relatively small, as pictured here.
Not all paleontologists agree that Dawndraco is a valid species. Paleontologist Mark Witton notes that no complete skull of Pteranodon is known and it's difficult to compare specimens without overlapping parts. He also notes that many smaller Pteranodon specimens appear to have snouts with parallel upper and lower margins, and both species of Pteranodon have a great deal of crest shape variability. For these reasons he considers Dawndraco to be a young specimen of P. sternbergi.