One comes across the oddest things in the press (yes, I’m going after the journalists again). This time out it’s a particularly bizarre one which fits my ‘checking’ hypothesis. Journalists (and bloggers alike) get complex or unusual or important facts from trusted sources (or Wikipedia in most cases I suspect) but fail to check things they think they already know. On occasion this leads to them getting complex ideas right while screwing up the simplest ones. The effort below is a brilliant example. The author correctly identifies a pterosaur as a flying reptile and not a dinosaur, gets the size right, includes a nice size analogy, and (since I assuming she is referring to Quetzalcoatlus specifically and not azhdarchoids in general) the location data is right. Most significantly, the point is very up to date including the recent work of Darren Naish and Mark Witton on terrestrial hunding in azdarchoids and getting it bang on (and let’s face it while this paper was well advertised, it’s not necessarily going to be picked up and remembered by every journalist, or they may not get the central concept correct). However, the last word lets the whole thing down with the kind of deflation normally assocaited by someone with ice-skates taking a turn on a bouncy castle. Here then is the source of my incredulity:
“A flying reptile the size of a spitfire aircraft and with a wingspan of up to 12m lived in North America. Although it could fly, scientists now think it hunted for food on foot, like today’s….
Yes, pelicans. They think pelicans hunt on the ground. Oh.
Now yes, it is true that pelicans like most predatory animals will happily take whatever they can get and will certianly snap up morsels on the ground if they are going (most famously including pigeons) however the idea that they are terrestrial predators in the line of caracaras or ground hornbills is frighteningly shy of the mark. Not only that but, well, it’s a pelican! You know, pelicans. The big birds that I thought pretty much everyone knew ate fish. Out to sea. You know, the old rhyme “hold in his beak, enough fish for a week” etc. Those birds that dive, head first into the sea (accompanying image from here). Hmmm, maybe pterosaurs were doing that, it would at least explain this.
Oh, and here is a link to Darren’s own private pelican collection.