Pterosaurs evolved to eat a diverse range of foodstuffs, according to a study of the marks on their teeth, reported in Nature Communications this week. The research helps shed light on the evolution of these iconic winged reptiles, as well as the roles they had within their different ecosystems.
Just as teeth leave marks in the food that is bitten, so too, food can leave marks on the teeth that do the biting. Different foods leave different impressions, and so can be used to infer the diet of various animals. Here, Jordan Bestwick and colleagues analyse the sub-micrometre patterns left on the fossil teeth of various pterosaurs belonging to 17 different genera. These flying predators lived during the Mesozoic period, between 210 and 66 million years ago, but relatively little is known about their diet.
The study presents a varied picture. Dimorphodon, for example, ate a mix of vertebrates, Rhamphorhynchus ate fish, and Austriadactylus ate ‘hard’ invertebrates such as beetles and crustaceans. Some pterosaurs specialized on a narrow range of prey, whereas others were more generalist predators. It is thought that ancestral pterosaurs ate invertebrates, and then later evolved into fish- and meat-eaters. The authors suggest that this transition may have been driven by competition with birds, which were diversifying towards the end of the Mesozoic period.
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