Navigation Links
The rise and rise of the flying reptiles

A new study by Katy Prentice, done as part of her undergraduate degree (MSci in Palaeontology and Evolution) at the University of Bristol, shows that the pterosaurs evolved in a most unusual way, becoming more and more specialised through their 160 million years on Earth. The work is published today in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.

'Usually, when a new group of animals or plants evolves, they quickly try out all the options. When we did this study, we thought pterosaurs would be the same,' said Katy. 'Pterosaurs were the first flying animals they appeared on Earth 50 million years before Archaeopteryx, the first bird and they were good at what they did. But the amazing thing is that they didn't really begin to evolve until after the birds had appeared.'

Katy's study was done in conjunction with her supervisors, Dr Marcello Ruta and Professor Michael Benton. They looked at 50 different pterosaurs that ranged in size from a blackbird to the largest of all, Quetzalcoatlus, with a wingspan of 12 metres, four times the size of the largest flying bird today, the albatross. They tracked how all the pterosaur groups came and went through their history and recorded in detail their body shapes and adaptations.

The new work shows that pterosaurs remained conservative for 70 million years, and then started to experiment with all kinds of new modes of life. After birds emerged and became successful, the pterosaurs were not pushed to extinction, as had been suggested. It seems they responded to the new flyers by becoming larger and trying out new lifestyles. Many of the new lifestyle adaptations were seen in the pterosaurs skulls, as they adapted to feed on different food sources; some were seed-eaters, many ate fish, and later ones even lost their teeth. The rest of the body also showed a surprising amount of variation between different groups, when considering that the body forms have to retain many features to allow flight.

'Pterosaurs were at the height of their success about 125 million years ago, just as the birds became really diverse too,' said Dr Marcello Ruta. 'Our new numerical studies of all their physical features show they became three times as diverse in adaptations in the Early Cretaceous than they had been in the Jurassic, before Archaeopteryx and the birds appeared.'

Pterosaurs dwindled and disappeared 65 million years during the mass extinction that killed the dinosaurs. In their day they had been a fair match for the birds, and the two groups divided up aerial ecospace between them, so avoiding conflict.

'We're delighted to see a student mastering some tough mathematical techniques, and coming up with such a clear-cut result,' said Professor Michael Benton. 'Palaeontologists have often speculated about the coming and going of different groups of animals through time, but the new study provides a set of objective measurements of the relative success and breadth of adaptation of pterosaurs through their long time on the Earth.'


Contact: Hannah Johnson
University of Bristol

Related biology news :

1. Birds flap run instead if flying over obstacles to save energy
2. Rare 89 million-year-old flying reptile fossil from Texas may be worlds oldest Pteranodon
3. New species of flying reptile identified on B.C. coast
4. Flying fish glide as well as birds
5. Rare 95 million-year-old flying reptile Aetodactylus halli is new pterosaur genus, species
6. Bat researchers no longer flying blind on echolocation
7. ESA satellites flying in formation
8. Researchers uncover worlds oldest fossil impression of a flying insect
9. Good guy or bad guy? Diagnosing stomach disease in pet reptiles
10. The pain of evolution: A big toothache for reptiles
Post Your Comments:
(Date:11/9/2015)... JOSE, Calif. , Nov. 9, 2015  Synaptics ... human interface solutions, today announced broader entry into the ... vehicle-specific solutions that match the pace of consumer electronics ... and biometric sensors are ideal for the automotive industry ... vehicle. Europe , ...
(Date:10/29/2015)... RESTON, Va. , Oct. 29, 2015 ... announced today that it has released a new version ... Daon customers in North America ... gains. IdentityX v4.0 also includes a FIDO UAF ... customers are already preparing to activate FIDO features. These ...
(Date:10/27/2015)... , Oct. 27, 2015 In the present ... of concern for various industry verticals such as banking, ... to the growing demand for secure & simplified access ... ,sectors, such as hacking of bank accounts, misuse of ... equipment such as PC,s, laptops, and smartphones are expected ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/25/2015)... ... 25, 2015 , ... Jessica Richman and Zachary Apte, founders ... initial angel funding process. Now, they are paying it forward to other microbiome ... investments in the microbiome space. In this, they join other successful entrepreneurs-turned-angels ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... 2015 Halozyme Therapeutics, Inc. (NASDAQ: HALO ) will ... New York on Wednesday, December 2 at 9:30 a.m. ... and CEO, will provide a corporate overview. th ... at 1:00 p.m. ET/10:00 a.m. PT . Jim Mazzola ... a corporate overview. --> th Annual Oppenheimer Healthcare ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... CITY , Nov. 24, 2015 /PRNewswire/ - Aeterna ... request of IIROC on behalf of the Toronto Stock ... news release there are no corporate developments that would ... --> --> About ... . --> Aeterna Zentaris is ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... ... The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), led by its Executive Council, has officially ... to represent the First–Person View (FPV) racing community. , FPV racing has exploded in ... racing and several new model aviation pilots have joined the community because of their ...
Breaking Biology Technology: