24 July 2007

So goes the theory of pterosaurian mega-skimmers according to a new PLOS paper by Humphries et al. The researchers, including Flickr pterosaur maven Mark Witton, employed the bane of all arm-waving theories, math, to model the energy costs of a large flying pterosaur dipping it’s jaws into the surf to scoop up fish. At least one group of extant birds, the aptly named Skimmers, engages in this behavior. Perceived skeletal similarities (mostly a long, tapered ‘bill’) had led some to infer this style of feeding in pterosaurs.

The authors conclude that the drag incurred by such a behavior would have rendered it a near-impossibility, at least among the large pterosaurs that have been most commonly depicted skimming. The researchers also compared the skulls of pterosaurs with living Skimmers and found the former lacking many of the morphological specializations that would be expected in organisms adapted to skimming.

Once again, PLoS = totally awesome (see, I can use math too!) Much more at Laelaps, if we’re lucky, Darren might weigh in too. Above image questionably sourced from this questionable source.

Mark Witton’s awesome illustration and a personal account is here. A summary by Liza Gross, PLoS is here.

4 Responses to “Ker-splash!”

  1. laelaps Says:

    Thanks for the link Neil. I hope Darren has time to give us his insights into this paper, too. The new PLoS paper actually reminded me that I need to fill in some pretty substantial gaps in my own knowledge when it comes to pterosaurs; I definitely haven’t given them the attention they deserve.

  2. Neil Says:

    It seems there is still a lot learn about pterosaurs all around, and perhaps some to unlearn too.

  3. Nick Valvo Says:

    The rainbow horizontal rules in the questionable source just made my day. If only they were animated GIFs!

  4. […] skimming the water’s surface, trying to catch a fish. New research shows that this is likely more fantasy than reality, however, as outlined over at microecos (with a spiffy old picture of a “ropen” attack, […]

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