(ORDO NEWS) — An international team of researchers have discovered a perfectly preserved skeleton of a Jurassic flying lizard with unusual jaws: hundreds of thin, curved teeth grew on them, giving them a resemblance to a comb.
Since the first pterosaur was described in the 18th century, scientists have found hundreds of species of these winged reptiles that have dominated our planet’s skies for 150 million years.
However, fragile skeletons adapted for flight are rarely preserved in their entirety, which makes the new discovery from the world-famous Solnhofen limestone especially valuable.
The fossil was discovered by accident in the south of Bavaria, in the process of digging up the bones of a crocodile. It was described by an international group of paleontologists from Germany, England and Mexico.
The new species of pterosaurs was named Moiser’s balenognathus ( Balaenognathus maeusereri ): the generic name means “whale’s jaw”, and scientists gave the species name in honor of the German paleontologist Matthias Mäuser, co-author of the article, who passed away before its publication.
The head of a pterosaur is especially notable: its jaws curve slightly upwards, like those of an avocet , and have an extension at their toothless end, like those of a spoonbill.
Both of these bird species live on the banks of water bodies and feed on fish, amphibians and invertebrates, so it is likely that the balenognathus was a lover of small prey.
How did he get food out of the water?
Most likely, it filtered: gaining a full mouth, the pterosaur drained water through a frequent “comb” of the thinnest teeth, after which it swallowed what did not fit into the tiny (less than a millimeter!) gap between them.
Each tooth ended in a hook that prevented potential prey from swimming over the top, and the long bones of the legs and wings allowed the balenognathus to roam the shallow water like modern waders.
Although this is not the first species of pterosaurs with such an adaptation (the South American pterodaustro, the owner of an even longer “comb”, is widely known), only balenognathans have found such a strange shape of jaws and teeth.
Thanks solely to the unique conditions of fossilization in the sea lagoons of ancient Bavaria, the graceful skeleton of this pterosaur was able to survive almost intact to this day and reveal all the secrets of its bizarre anatomy.
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