Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit writing about pterosaurs being killed…

Surely this can’t be serious? Yeah you wait years for a paper about pterosaurs being munched on by other vertebrates and then two come along at once. A paper? What is it?

In this case it’s an online publication, which is nice (PLOS again so freely available, reference and link below). This time it’s from (very) occasional Pterosaur.net contributors Helmut Tischlinger and Dino Frey. It seems the large Solnhofen fish Aspidorhynchus may have had a thing for pterosaurs.

While other specimens are apparently known of a similar interaction, a new specimen has come to light showing individuals of each species being intimately linked. Nope, it’s not that Rhamphorhynchus had a drinking problem so much as it got grabbed and dragged under by the fish. Too big to eat and with its wing membranes stuck in the teeth of the fish, the two were locked together. Drifting into the anoxic zone of Solnhofen lagoons (little use for loading or unloading there) would have killed them both, still locked together (and is also how you get things like this).

Interestingly, while Aspidorhynchus had tried to have ‘chicken’ for dinner, the flying pterosaur had had fish (incidentally I had lasagna). There’s a fish in the throat of the pterosaur, suggesting it had only just caught one at the surface of the water when it was snagged by the bigger fish below.

Right, I’ve got to go take a call on my white phone to do an interview about Microraptor colours, and it’s not a big pretty white one with a red stripe down the side.

Frey E, Tischlinger H (2012) The Late Jurassic Pterosaur Rhamphorhynchus, a Frequent Victim of the Ganoid Fish Aspidorhynchus? PLoS ONE 7(3): e31945. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031945

Images for this post kindly provided by Helmut Tischlinger.

13 Responses to “Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit writing about pterosaurs being killed…”


  1. 1 Christopher 09/03/2012 at 12:58 pm

    This has been one of the best weeks ever.

    Is this the first direct evidence that Rhamphorhynchus actually did prey on fish?

  2. 3 Mark Robinson 10/03/2012 at 2:47 am

    Lovely specimen and photos. I’m glad that you included the UV pic because in the first pic it looked to me like the fish had gavial-like jaws, but the second photo shows that what I thought was the fish’s lower jaw is actually the pterosaur’s scapula(?).

    Do you think that, rather than the pterosaur being caught by the fish in mid-flight that it’s possible that, either the pterosaur mistimed its swoop and ended up in the drink, or that it habitually plunged into the water to catch fish unawares? What other evidence is there regarding their likely/possible feeding strategy?

    • 4 David Hone 10/03/2012 at 6:38 pm

      I don’t think anyone has really looked at these various hypotheses in detail to date. It’s certainly plausible the pterosaur was snagged on the wing by a fish, it does happen to birds and bats. It could have been floundering on the water as well and got grabbed, though you’d be surprised that an animal that habitually hunted fish would panic and thrash around unless it was in trouble for another reason. Personally I doubt they were regular plunge divers, as while it’s possible, it’s a somewhat specialised form of hunting. All things are possible here though, but on balance I think I’d favour it being caught by the fish while close to the water.

  3. 5 Robert A. Sloan 10/03/2012 at 3:01 am

    This is beautiful! One of those incredible specimens. Big fish > pterosaur > little fish – one of those perfect snapshots in time as great as the Fighting Dinosaurs. Thanks for a great article and pictures!

    Read the microraptor news in a couple of other articles, looking forward to your take on it.

  4. 6 ReBecca 10/03/2012 at 6:17 am

    That is wild! I thought you were joking at first ;)

  5. 7 Rusty Shackleford 12/03/2012 at 1:16 am

    Looks like I picked a bad day to quit eating Pterodactyl!

  6. 8 Kurt Kohler 12/03/2012 at 1:21 am

    This has to be the most Airplane! references in one blog post, ever.

    And don’t call me Shirley!


  1. 1 Friday fossil « Oliver's Paleo Blog Trackback on 09/03/2012 at 2:41 pm
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