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Did pterosaurs feed by skimming? physical modelling and anatomical evaluation of an unusual feeding method

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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 skim-feeding. 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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e204
JournalPLoS Biology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2007


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