Scientists were performing field work in Morocco when they unearthed a new species of pterosaur. What’s so unique about this species is that it was the size of a turkey and had a very long, skinny, toothless beak that it used to find hidden prey in the dirt. In fact, its beak has been compared to that of a modern-day kiwi.
The newly identified species, which has been named Leptostomia begaaensis, was discovered by palaeontologists from the universities of Bath and Portsmouth. At first, they thought that the remains were that of a fish, but upon further analysis they realized that it was a piece of a beak. After they found the fossilized beak, they conducted more searches in the area of the Kem Kem beds and found more bones.
Professor David Martill from the University of Portsmouth described the significance of this discovery, “We've never seen anything like this little pterosaur before,” adding, “The bizarre shape of the beak was so unique, at first the fossils weren't recognized as a pterosaur.”
After performing extensive analysis on the remains, they found that the beak contained several internal canals that would have helped it to find prey that was hidden in the dirt like hard-shelled clams, crustaceans, and worms.
This is very interesting as pterosaurs had a wide range of meals. Professor Martill went into further details by explaining, “The diets and hunting strategies of pterosaurs were diverse – they likely ate meat, fish and insects.” “The giant 500-pound pterosaurs probably ate whatever they wanted.” “Some species hunted food on the wing, others stalked their prey on the ground.” “Now, the fragments of this remarkable little pterosaur show a lifestyle previously unknown for pterosaurs.”
According to the scientists, the Leptostomia begaaensis may have been a pretty common species but nobody has identified them until recently. “It's so strange - people have probably been finding bits of this beast for years, but we didn't know what they were until now,” stated Dr. Nick Longrich from the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath.
Pterosaurs were the long-winged cousins of dinosaurs and they could grow as small as a sparrow or as large as a plane. They first appeared approximately 215 million years ago during the Triassic period and survived for 150 million years until going extinct around 65 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous period. So far, over a hundred pterosaur species have been identified with the Leptostomia begaaensis being the most recent. A few pictures of an artist’s impression of the Leptostomia begaaensis can be seen here.
Their research was published in the journal Cretaceous Research and can be read in full here.