Ludodactylus

CIMG1091As (vaguely) promised, here are some photos of this wonderful ornithocheirid pterosaur. However the damned thing is so big (the slab it is on is close to a metre on each side as I recall) that it was hard to fit in the frame of the shot, even from on top of a chair so it doesn’t quite fit as you can see, hence the inclusion of a second ‘angled’ picture below to show it off better and a close-up of the jaws.

One thing to note is the fact that there is not much of any form of anterior crest on the snout of this ornithocheirid which is rather unusual in itself, but even more dramatic is the rather Pteranodon-like crest on the back of the skull (sadly most of which is missing). Those who have kept up with the Musings for a while will note that this is important for pterosaurian taxonomy and the ongoing issues of the ornithocheirids in particular as I mention here, and show off some other pertinent skulls here and here, and finally as reported by Taissa Rodrigues in a guest post here.

Quite often in palaeontology someone finds a rather interesting fossil and trying to make the most of it runs into a bit of over interpretation based on too limited evidence, no one’s immune from it (he said covering his own back / mistakes / exaggerations) though some are more extreme than others. Here though the arguments put forward for how this animal met its death are really rather convincing. As you can clearly see there is a leaf wedged into the lower jaw, though what you can’t see is that it really is stuck between the two rami of the jaws (i.e. it’s between the left and right parts, and not just behind the jaws and simply appears to be between them). Also while the top half is well preserved, the bottom part of the leaf is worn and badly damaged. So what happened?

CIMG1144Well the inference is that this particular individual picked up a leaf by mistake thinking it was a fish. This particular leaf as you probably can’t see has rather serrated edges, if you took that into your mouth you would get a nasty set of cuts and have a hard time getting it out with your fingers. Now let’s narrow your mouth down to about half the width and prevent the fingers from getting in there as would be the case for this unfortunate animal, and add a nice expansive and elastic throat pouch for it to get tangled up in what would you do then? Actually you’d probably do what it appeared to do, try and push the leaf out from below or just rub it so much it fell to bits until you could spit out or swallow the remains. Sadly it does not look like it was successful as while the leaf clearly has been wrecked on its lower side (up to the start of the jaws) it’s still obviously in place. It was probably stuck down the side of the tongue and was wedged into the lining of the throat pouch (a common feature in pterosaurs). The animal likely starved to death being unable to eat properly and died with the leaf still stuck fast.

If all of this sounds exaggerated or far fetched then you’ll be interested to know that this kind of thing happens to pelicans quite regularly as they scoop up leaves, or plastic bags or other things that aren’t fish and get them stuck in their mouths or throat pouches. It’s actually a problem for seabirds in general I understand, and just rather well documented in pelicans and one can see how a slightly shiny green leaf on the surface of the water could be mistaken for a fish in sunlight. To add to this hypothesis just a little further, if you watch an animal with something stuck in it’s mouth the response is generally quite stereotyped with the animal either scratching at it with a foot, or rubbing the head on the ground, exactly the response inferred for Ludodactylus over its last ‘meal’.

DSC_0163

Oh and anyone wondering what this might have looked like in life, please turn to the top banner and take a look at the close relative Caulkicephalus (top right, orangey-red crest) as drawn by Luis Rey and will give you a pretty good idea.

5 Responses to “Ludodactylus”


  1. 1 Christopher Collinson 03/06/2009 at 1:11 pm

    Nice! Any chance I could get a larger version of the last photo?

  2. 2 David Hone 03/06/2009 at 1:30 pm

    That largely depends what you want it for, please e-mail me and we can talk about it. For anyone reading this, it’s not that I am anti-sharing photos, but all of the things i put up on here are either mine, or used with permission. If it’s the latter (as it is here) then it may not be my photo to lend / give and those who provided them may have restrictions on what they can / cannot be used for understandably.

  3. 3 tanystropheus 10/06/2009 at 1:18 pm

    So I take it this animal likely employed some sort of skimming or otherwise rapidly-reflexive technique in capturing fish, as it would have almost certainly recognized the leaf for what it was were it allotted more time in its attack. I realize that this idea isn’t new, but this interpretation merely ‘feeds the fire’.

  4. 4 David Hone 23/06/2009 at 7:23 pm

    It does feed the fire, but I’m not sure it’s right. I doubt these were super-intelligent animals and anything fish-like would be snapped up, if pelicans can grab plastic bags that look (let’s face it) not very much like fish, I’m not sure a pterosaur would have a ‘too late!’ reaction. It was probably a rare occurance and thus may not have been selected against despite occasional faalities like this one.


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