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The feeding behaviour of azhdarchid pterosaurs
SVPCA Conference
Platform presentation (20 minutes)
*Darren Naish
Mark P Witton
Azhdarchids were globally distributed Cretaceous pterodactyloid pterosaurs, well known for the gigantic sizes achieved by some taxa (wingspans >10 m). While remaining poorly described, they have been the focus of an unreasonable amount of palaeobiological speculation. The idea that azhdarchids were aquatic skim-feeders (flying over the water surface, trawling their mandibles through the water) has been popular, yet appears untenable based on the absence of any skim-feeding specialisations in the azhdarchid skeleton. Claims that azhdarchids were dip-feeders (reaching down in flight to grab prey from the water) are contradicted by anatomical details, such as the stiff neck and very elongate, pointed jaw tips. A review of taphonomic and morphological data indicates that azhdarchids were strongly terrestrial, and well suited for quadrupedal foraging and a generalised diet. Azhdarchids and related taxa may have played a significant role in Cretaceous terrestrial ecosystems, and their terrestriality might explain why they survived to the end of the Maastrichtian. Witton & Naish (2008) employed extensive comparison with extant birds in order to arrive at these conclusions. However, frustratingly little has been published on avian functional morphology, and how storks, herons, pelicans and other groups procure and process prey is still chronically under-described.
London 2020