June 29, 2008

These Wings Were Made for Walking

By Perkins, Sid

Most fossils of pterosaurs, flying reptiles that soared the skies while dinosaurs strolled below, have been found in marine sediments. Scientists thought the creatures spent a lot of time flying over the seas, possibly snatching fish from the water, says Mark Witton, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Portsmouth in England. After studying fossils, Witton and colleague Darren Naish suggest a different lifestyle for a group of large pterosaurs called azhdarchids. "Analyses suggest that azhdarchids were quite capable on the ground," Witton says. The team reports in May in PLoS ONE that most azhdarchid fossils-such as those of Quetza/coat/us northropi (illustrated at right), whose wings spanned 10 meters-are found in locales that would have been far from the coastline, likely in lakes or floodplains. Also, azhdarchids' feet were too small and slim for wading or swimming; their necks, lower jaws and beaks weren't built for in-flight fish catching; and fossilized footprints hint that they walked upright. -Sid Perkins

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