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Did pterosaurs feed by skimming?

Humphries S, Bonser RHC, Witton MP, Martill DM (2007) Did pterosaurs
feed by skimming? Physical modelling and anatomical evaluation of an
unusual feeding method. PLoS Biol 5(8): e204.

ABSTRACT: Similarities between the anatomies of living organisms are
often used to draw conclusions regarding the ecology and behaviour of
extinct animals. Several pterosaur taxa are postulated to have been
skim-feeders based largely on supposed convergences of their jaw anatomy
with that of the modern skimming bird, Rynchops spp. Using physical and
mathematical models of Rynchops bills and pterosaur jaws, we show that
skimming is considerably more energetically costly than previously
thought for Rynchops and that pterosaurs weighing more than one kilogram
would not have been able to skim at all. Furthermore, anatomical
comparisons between the highly specialised skull of Rynchops and those
of postulated skimming pterosaurs suggest that even smaller forms were
poorly adapted for skimfeeding. Our results refute the hypothesis that
some pterosaurs commonly used skimming as a foraging method and
illustrate the pitfalls involved in extrapolating from limited
morphological convergence.

The paper's available for free at:

And one of the authors, Mark Witton, has an essay about the paper at

Richard Hing
School of Earth & Environmental Sciences, 
University of Portsmouth, 
Burnaby Building, 
Burnaby Road, Portsmouth 
Phone number +44 (0)23 9284 2418
E-Mail: Richard.Hing@port.ac.uk