Lower Cretaceous strata in England are home to three fragmentary pterosaur species in the genus Lonchodraco. Each species – Lonchodraco giganteus, L. machaerorhynchus, and L. microdon – were named in the 19th century, but the genus wasn’t named until 2013 by Taissa Rodrigues and Alexander Kellner. Each of these species had previously considered part of the genus Lonchodectes, but Rodrigues and Kellner considered the type species of Lonchodectes, L. compressirostris, to be undiagnostic, making the genus Lonchodectes unuseable.
Lonchodraco giganteus is based on the ends of the upper and lower jaws of a single individual from the Chalk Formation. The specimen is about 7.5 cm (3 inches) long and preserves several teeth in the upper and lower jaws. The teeth are short, slightly recurved cones, and each tooth has a bony collar at its base. The teeth are all roughly the same size, and the spaces between the teeth are roughly equal to the diameter of the teeth. The upper jaw is triangular in profile and bears a narrow crest on the top of its snout, and the palate has a midline ridge. The lower jaw also bears a narrow crest, giving the jaw tips a cone-like appearance. The L. giganteus specimen also preserves parts of the shoulder and wing.
Lonchodraco machaerorynchus is based on a lower jaw fragment from the Cambridge Greensand. The specimen is about 5 cm (2 inches) long and preserves four tooth positions, but the teeth were lost. Like L. giganteus, the spaces between the teeth are roughly equal to the diameters of the teeth. There is a narrow crest on the lower jaw that appears to be roughly triangular in outline.
Lonchodraco microdon is based on two possibly associated upper jaw fragments from the Cambridge Greensand. One is about 3 cm (1.2 inches) long, and the other about 2 cm (0.8 inches) long, and preserve several tooth positions, but no teeth. Unlike the other two species, the gaps between teeth are slightly greater than the diameter of the teeth. L. microdon doesn’t have a crest, and instead the top of the snout has a rounded surface, but it does have a strong palatal ridge like L. giganteus.
Rodrigues and Kellner entered all three species of Lonchodraco into a phylogenetic analysis, and they were found to be closely related to each other, but it was unclear what other pterosaurs were most closely related to Lonchodraco. They erected the family Lonchodraconidae to house the genus, as they regarded Lonchodectidae, based on Lonchodectes, to be unusable. More recently, Rigal, Martill, and Sweetman considered Lonchodectes compressirostris to be valid, but distinct enough from Lonchodraco to warrant generic separation within the family Lonchodectidae.
Lonchodectids are known from very fragmentary remains, characterized by long and very narrow snouts, stout teeth with bony collars, and strong midline palatal ridges. The most completely known lonchodectid species is Yixianopterus from Lower Cretaceous rocks in China, and is used as the basis for this entry. Not much is known about what lonchodectids ate, although they were presumably carnivorous. The narrow snouts and stout teeth suggest that they probed for food in tight spaces.
The Cambridge Greensand and Chalk Formation deposited at the end of the Early Cretaceous, about 110 million years ago, are two of the most productive sites for pterosaur fossils in the world. Unfortunately, most of these fossils are incomplete jaw fragments that are difficult to interpret. Despite their incomplete nature, they record an incredibly diverse pterosaur community with dozens of known species.