Leaping prehistoric sharks caught pterosaurs
By T.K. Randall
December 20, 2018 · 5 comments
Low-flying pterosaurs were vulnerable to attack from sharks. Image Credit: CC BY 2.0 Elias Levy
New fossil evidence suggests that prehistoric sharks may have leapt from the water to catch flying reptiles.
The discovery was made by researchers from the University of Southern California who had been examining a fossil Pteranodon that had been kept in storage for over 50 years.
They were particularly surprised to find that this huge flying carnivore, which has earned the nickname 'King of the Skies', seemed to have a large tooth embedded between the ridges of its neck vertebrae.
A further examination revealed that the tooth was that of Cretoxyrhina mantelli
- a particularly large and vicious species of prehistoric shark around the same size as today's great white shark.
The find is the first known evidence of a shark interacting with a pterosaur and suggests that these prehistoric denizens of the deep preyed upon more than just sea creatures.
While it is unclear exactly how the tooth came to be embedded in the pterosaur fossil, scientists have speculated that the shark may have leapt up out of the water to grab the reptile.
The idea is certainly not outside the realms of possibility, especially given that some of today's sharks are known to leap out of the water to catch birds.
"Understanding the ecology of these animals is important to understanding life on Earth through time," said study senior author Michael Habib.
"Are there sharks today that hunt seabirds? Yes, there are. Is that unique or have big sharks been hunting flying creatures for millions of years? The answer is yes, they have."
"We now know sharks were hunting flying animals as long ago as 80 million years."
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