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Re: Did pterosaurs feed by skimming?

"Could pterosaurs in general or certain genera used their feet to hold
struggling animals?"

As Jim has already stated, this trick has been played up lots in films
(yer One Million Years B.C.s, Jurassic Park IIIs etc.) but doesn't
really have much basis in reality. The grasping ability of pterosaur
feet, to my knowledge, is still understudied, but a cursory glance at
their pedal morphology suggests their ability to grasp things,
raptor-style, was limited. Unlike raptorial birds, pterosaur phalanges
lack the developed flexor tubules we would expect in an animal with a
sturdy pedal grip, and their foot bones are generally slender anyway,
implying they weren't used in any apprehensive fashion. However, this is
not to say that some pterosaurs don't have well-developed pedal claws:
UV light on Pterodactylus and tapejarid material from the Solnhofen and
Crato limestones show that some pterosaurs had enormous, recurved claws
on their feet. They are relatively slender despite their length though,
so any pterosaur trying to grab struggling prey with claws like these
might've done more damage to itself than it would to its prey.

One more word on this: if, like me, you're a broad-wing proponent, you
might find it hard to imagine a pterosaur employing pedal apprehension
of aerial prey at least without compromising the wing membrane, an
action unlikely to increase the chance of prey acquisition at best. I
suppose you could still drop, hawk-style, onto an unbearably cute
Mesozoic bunny analogue, but then the points above come into play.

So, apologies to Ray Harryhausen and Racquel Welch, but that's a firm
'no' to the super-grip-pterosaur-feet-of-death hypothesis, then.


Mark Witton
Palaeobiology Research Group
School of Earth and Environmental Sciences
University of Portsmouth
Burnaby Building
Burnaby Road
Tel: (44)2392 842418
E-mail: Mark.Witton@port.ac.uk

>>> Brandon Pilcher <trex_kid@hotmail.com> 25/07/2007 21:45 >>>
>Mark, Your paper begs the question, if,  say, Pteranodon did not
>then how did it feed?  It seems to me  that there are very few 
>alternatives. DV

I have always imagined pterosaurs as swooping down to capture snakes, 
lizards, birds, mammals, or the like in their beaks---the "birds of
prey" of 
the Mesozoic, if you will.

Speaking of birds of prey, has anyone studied the grabbing ability of 
pterosaur feet? Could pterosaurs in general or certain genera used
feet to hold struggling animals?

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