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."