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Fossils: New pterosaur may have been a flying forager

Scientific Reports

September 11, 2014

A new species of pterosaur (flying reptile), found in the Early Cretaceous (about 120 million year ago) deposits from northeastern China, is described in Scientific Reports. Analysis of two sets of fossils suggest that these pterosaurs may have occasionally foraged for food by flying low over water and scooping up prey near the surface, thanks to an elongated skull and what may have been a throat pouch.

Pterosaurs are the earliest vertebrates (animals with backbones) known to have evolved powered flight. Ikrandraco avatar, the new species unearthed by Xiaolin Wang, Alexander Kellner and colleagues, was found in the Aptian Jiufotang Formation of northeast China, a region particularly rich in pterosaurs. Features identified in two partial skeletons include a very low and elongated skull, a well-developed dentary crest on the lower jaw bone with a unique hook shape on it, which the authors propose may have served as an anchor for soft tissue, such as a throat sac. These features led the authors to propose a distinct foraging habitat at the surface of water bodies. However, the authors note that skim feeding behavior was probably not used extensively as the newly discovered species does not seem to possess extensive adaptions for this feeding practice.

The name derives from Ikran, from the fictional flying creatures in the film Avatar that are reminiscent of pterosaurs and are depicted with a similarly well-developed dentary crest, and draco, from the Latin meaning dragon.

doi: 10.1038/srep06329

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