|“||Neytiri: "It is toruk, last shadow."
Jake: "Yeah, right. It's the last one you'll ever see."
- Jake Sully and Neytiri talking about the leonopteryx
The great leonopteryx (Na'vi name: toruk meaning "last shadow") is a species of large flying animal native to Pandora, and is the apex aerial predator of the Pandoran sky. Scientifically, it is known as Leonopteryx rex – "winged king lion" (leon- from the Greek word λέων, meaning "lion"; -pteryx from Greek word πτέρυξ, meaning "wing"; and the Latin word rex, meaning "king").
The fierce magnificence and formidable stature of the leonopteryx gave the species a central place in Na'vi lore and culture. It is celebrated in dance, song, and with elaborate totems that symbolize both the fear and respect given to the creature. Indeed, the leonopteryx is crucial to the Na'vi's sense of destiny and interconnectedness.
This creature's name in Na'vi translates roughly to "last shadow", as its preferred method of attack is from above, with its shadow being the last thing its victim sees (and once they do it is already too late). The leonopteryx is hypercarnivorous, feeding on mainly mountain and forest banshees, and occasionally on medusae. Under the rainforest canopy, the leonopteryx will sometimes feed on ground animals such as hexapedes. It is a solitary creature and has no known natural enemies.
The leonopteryx is closely related to the banshee, with many similarities and differences. The leonopteryx is primarily colored red and yellow, with black stripes and blue crests on the top of the head and under its lower jaw, though the crests can be albinistic or green. The crest on its head is razor sharp and can be used to injure or disembowel prey, or cut vegetation obstructing flight.
The leonopteryx also has a large brain cavity, flexible, membranous wings stretched taut over a carbon fiber bone structure, powerful talons for grasping prey and perching, twin tails for flight control, flow-through ventilation for high performance, and large hooked claws. The leonopteryx has powerful jaws which can open at a wide angle, capable of cleaving a mountain banshee in half. Despite their superior binocular vision, they are unable to see directly above them, most likely due to the very pronounced brow ridges above their eyes.
Being the apex aerial predator of Pandora, this is not a problem for the leonopteryx, as it has no need to watch for attackers. However, this weakness is exploited by Jake Sully, who jumps from his banshee from above the unaware leonopteryx and tames it through tsaheylu.
The wingspan of the leonopteryx is more than 25 meters (75–80 ft.). It can even exceed 30 meters. Its wings are composed of individual finned members that can separate to act as a slotted airfoil, or overlap and seal to form a solid surface. When separated, they can rotate individually to induce or retard vortex formation. These finned members are not unlike the primary feathers of many terran birds.
The fiber composite bones help the animal to achieve flight through the dense Pandoran atmosphere, as with other flying animals of Pandora. Unlike its smaller cousins, the banshees, it retains all six limbs, with its middle pair of legs serving as the "stabs" and its rearmost pair have taloned feet which are used for grabbing prey while diving or to provide a stronger kick while taking off.
The leonopteryx has four large yellow eyes with black pupils. The two main eyes are in the front of the skull, and the two others are located near the rectangular antenna bases. Due to its size, the leonopteryx would not be a dense jungle hunter like banshees, but would have very little trouble on the plains or near cliffs or mountains, where it could feed on mid-sized animals or banshees.
It also has what appear to be two rather short tails. These may simply be extensions of the rear fins. The function of these is unclear, it may be to increase agility or perhaps play a role in display.
Habitat, Mating and Encounters
The leonopteryx are difficult to locate. This fact is exacerbated by the associated risk with trying to locate the resting place of such a massive, dangerous animal. However, some have been sighted in the Hallelujah Mountains. Members of the species mate for life and breed once every two years. Primarily, the great leonopteryx travels alone and occasionally in pairs. However, unlike the mountain banshee, they have never been observed in a swarm, or other high concentration. They hatch from eggs; Seyvaro once told a story about a leonopteryx eating a young Na'vi for stealing one.
Although leonopteryx are wary of encountering their own kind, it is documented that a team of avatars observed a battle between two leonopteryx in the space of 3 hours. The battle ended when both fell to the forest floor from their mortal wounds and were believed to have been dispatched by a large pack of viperwolves.
In the Na'vi culture, those who are successful in making tsaheylu with the great leonopteryx are given the title of Toruk Makto, which translates as "Rider of Last Shadow". Toruk Makto is, to the Na'vi, a mythical hero who leads the people to victory during times of great sorrow. Neytiri tells Jake that all Na'vi know the story of Toruk Makto, which would explain why the clan is instantly reverent of Jake when he returns to the Omaticaya clan, bonded to a great leonopteryx.
At the time of Jake Sully's introduction to the Omaticaya, no Na'vi had accomplished this for four generations and only five have managed that feat since the time of the First Songs. Jake becomes the sixth person to bond with the creature, which re-earns him the respect and trust of the Omaticaya clan, who had previously viewed him as a traitor. As Toruk Makto, he leads the Na'vi into battle against the RDA and, after a fierce fight with many losses on both sides, the Na'vi emerge victorious. After banishing the humans from Pandora, Jake releases the leonopteryx back into the wild, as the mythical Toruk Makto was no longer needed.