Newly discovered pterosaur walked along the shore to feed on worms
If the movie Jurassic World is to be believed, pterosaurs could easily catch and eat human-sized prey. A newly discovered species of the prehistoric flying reptile wouldn't have posed much of a threat to us, however, as it likely fed more like a modern-day sandpiper.
Named Leptostomia begaaensis, the "turkey-sized" creature lived during the Late Cretaceous epoch – 100.5 to 66 million years ago. It recently came to light when a team of paleontologists from Britain's universities of Portsmouth and Bath discovered a fossilized section of its upper beak in Morocco.
Unlike those of other pterosaurs, however, Leptostomia's beak was long, slim and toothless. In fact, the scientists initially thought that the fossil was a fin spine from a prehistoric fish. Its tell-tale texture, however, indicated that it came from a pterosaur. The team subsequently found other bones from the same animal, at the same dig site.
Because the long, slender beak is similar to those of present-day birds such as the sandpiper, kiwi, curlew and ibis, it is believed that Leptostomia fed in a similar fashion – this would have involved walking along the shores of rivers and estuaries, using the beak to probe in the sand and mud for prey including worms, crustaceans and small clams.
By conducting CT (computerized tomography) scans of the fossil, the researchers discovered that the feeding strategy was augmented by a network of canals in the beak. These canals contained specialized nerves that would have helped the reptile to locate prey that was hidden underground.
"You might think of the pterosaur as imitating the strategy used successfully by modern birds, but it was the pterosaur that got there first," says the University of Bath's Dr. Nick Longrich. "Birds just reinvented what pterosaurs had already done tens of millions of years earlier."
A paper on the study was recently published in the journal Cretaceous Research.
Source: University of Portsmouth