University of Portsmouth Professor makes fascinating discovery

A SCIENTIST from the city’s university has discovered that an extinct flying reptile had a surprisingly sensitive beak.

Saturday, 19th September 2020, 7:00 am
Professor David Martill, professor of palaeobiology at the University of Portsmouth.

The pterosaurs - which were winged cousins of dinosaurs - evolved sensitive beaks to allow them to find food in the same way modern birds such as ducks, sandpipers and kiwis do today.

The discovery was made by professor David Martill whose research revealed dozens of tiny holes in the tip of the beak, where the nerves passed through the bone. Clusters of nerves are seen in the beaks of birds which rely heavily on their sense of touch when finding and catching food.

Typically, they either probe in water and mud for food or feed on plants, using electrical signals to sense prey.

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Artist impression of the pterosaur species known as Lonchodraco giganteus which evolved a sensitive beak to help find food Megan Jacobs/University of Portsmouth

Professor Martill said: ‘This new find hints that, like birds, the pterosaurs evolved a huge range of feeding strategies - including ways of finding their prey.

‘Many pterosaurs would have used their sharp eyes to pick out prey on the wing, while stalking it on the ground. But this species apparently used the sensitive beak to find prey by touch - feeding on the ground and probing around in shallow water like a dabbling duck or spoonbill, perhaps even feeding at night.

‘These animals could probably detect a fish in the muddiest of water.’

Pterosaurs lived in the age of dinosaurs and hand wingspans of up to 10 metres.

Professor Martill made the new discovery after studying the fossilised remains of a pterosaurs found in a chalk pit in Kent.

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University of Portsmouth professor discovers new species of flying reptile

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