Sometimes science just disappoints you.
Apparently giant flying reptile Azhdarchid didn’t swoop down from the skies and flap off with its terrified screaming prey writhing in its vicious beak. Instead the ptersosaur was a ground based stalking animal, according to researchers at the University of Portsmouth (Guardian, Xinhua, Science News).
“Azhdarchids first became reasonably well known in the 1970s but how they lived has been the subject of much debate,” says Darren Naish (press release).
As so many different feeding strategies have been suggested, Naish and colleague Mark Witton sat down and had a detailed look at the beast. “All the details of their anatomy, and the environment their fossils are found in, show that they made their living by walking around, reaching down to grab and pick up animals and other prey,” he says.
In a new paper in PLOS One Naish and Witton set out a number of problems with other explanations: Azhdarchids don’t have cranial specialisations such as shock absorbing for skim feeding, their jaws are dissimilar to sediment probers, and their footprints show they had small feet which would be unsuitable for wading.
Plus the nasty looking things had stiff necks. “We also worked out the range of motion possible in the azhdarchid neck: this bizarrely stiff neck has previously been a problem for other ideas about azhdarchid lifestyle, but it fits with our model as all a terrestrial stalker needs to do its raise and lower its bill tip to the ground,” says Naish.
To illustrate their theory they’ve produced one of the best artist’s impressions of the year so far (above). Still though, this is a disappointment. What’s the point of having a 10 metre wingspan if you aren’t going to swoop down on harmless dinosaurs and carry them off?
To be fair, this new theory doesn’t mean that azhdarchids didn’t fly, just that they didn’t feed while flying. To illustrate this point, and perhaps to provide succour to the disappointed, Naish’s press release comes with this picture, left, entitled “Ever wondered what a giant azhdarchid would look like flying towards you? Now you know.”
Images: Mark Witton