May 29, 2008—Yes, they had wings, but the largest flying creatures ever to have lived preferred to hunt baby dinosaurs and similar-size snacks on foot, scientists say.
A new study of a group of pterosaurs called azhdarchids suggests that, even though they had wingspans of more than 10 meters (33 feet), they stalked their prey on the ground like modern-day storks.
Mark Witton and Darren Naish of England's University of Portsmouth based their findings on a detailed review of the reptiles' fossils and habitats.
Researchers had previously argued that azhdarchids—which lived from about 65 million to 100 million years ago—grabbed fish as the prehistoric reptiles skimmed over the water, like seagulls or pelicans.
But, Naish said, "they weren't animals of wetlands, marshes, or lakes. Their fossils are found preserved with dinosaurs and other animals that are not associated with a watery lifestyle at all.
"And if you look at their anatomical features, clearly they were well suited for terrestrial walking. There's no doubt that they were proficient fliers, but they were foraging on the ground, as so many flying birds do today."
Standing more than 16.4 feet (5 meters) tall and armed with a long, toothless beak, an azhdarchid would have preyed on just about anything up to the size of a modern-day red fox, according to the study, which appeared this week in the journal PLoS ONE.
(Related: "Ancient Flying Reptiles Likely Had Sex As Youths" [March 12, 2008].)
—James Owen in London
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