Ancient fossilised fish found downing Pterosaur
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Last Updated: Sunday, March 11, 2012, 14:11
  
Washington: For the first time, scientists have unearthed an ancient armoured fish that was fossilised in the act of drowning a pterosaur in a toxic Jurassic-era lake some 120 million years ago, revealing that the flying reptiles were victims of a wide variety of carnivores.

Pterosaurs ruled the skies during the age of dinosaurs, but still light did not always ensure them safety, according to researchers who have discovered five fossilised remains of the long-tailed pterosaur Rhamphorhychus apparently within the jaws of the ancient armoured predatory fish Aspidorhynchus.

All of the fossilised victims -- discovered in Germany's Bavaria and date back to over 120 million years old – had wingspans of about 27 inches and were positioned such that their wings were near the mouths of their 25-inch-long fish predators.

That suggests that the predator might have grabbed hold of their wing membranes, the researchers said.

In one specimen, they said, a pterosaur wing bone is actually caught within the jaws of the fish, while in another, the pterosaur has a tiny fish in its throat apparently swallowing it headfirst. This suggests the flying reptile was alive when it was seized, and not dead and perhaps scavenged by the armoured fish, they said.

The researchers, who detailed their findings in journal PLoS ONE, speculate that the Aspidorhynchus fish attacked the pterosaur while it was flying just above the water surface right after plucking a fish from the sea, grabbed its left wing and pulled the animal under water.

Nowadays birds and bats are occasionally eaten by sharks and other large fish. Still, the researchers do not think that pterosaurs were regularly part of the diet for Aspidorhynchus. In fact, these attacks were probably lethal mistakes.

"These animals normally have nothing to do with each other," said researcher Eberhard Frey, a paleozoologist at the State Natural History Museum in Karlsruhe, Germany.

"Apparently these encounters were fatal for both of them," Frey added.

The fish, according to the researchers, could neither swallow the pterosaurs nor work their jaws free, since the fibrous tissue of a pterosaur's tough, leathery wings would have become entangled with the fish's densely packed teeth.

After fighting the pterosaurs for a while, the fish would have likely sunk into the hostile, oxygen-poor water it lived in, where it would have suffocated.

"Fish sometimes don't take care with what they eat, because their brains are not very smart," Frey said. "Occasionally you find fish that died because they ate another fish that was too big to get swallowed, and the same things happened here with these pterosaurs."

PTI


First Published: Sunday, March 11, 2012, 14:11


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