A dinosaur-era specimen discovered in China has been acknowledged as belonging to the earliest known pterosaur which had filter-feeding habits.
The discovery has opened new insights into the food habits that prevailed among different groups of the Jurassic era's flying reptiles.
The specimen discovered in the Liaoning province of China was reportedly 160 million years old and belonged to the Jurassic period.
The surprise was that pterosaurs were considered the king of the food chain of the ancient era yet found following a food pattern of today's flamingos.
According to the researchers, a section of the pterosaurs was into filter-feeding as flamingos did.
The specimen has been named Liaodactylus primus — clubbing names of the Liaoning province with dactylos standing for a Greek word meaning winged finger.
Conventionally, pterosaurs are known to hunt food by a hushed swoop on fish and insects by whisking them away with the spiky teeth for a good meal.
The study was published in the Royal Society Open Science.
"The fossil specimen represents a medium-sized pterosaur with a large number of fine teeth indicative of filter-feeding adaptation," said the study's co-researcher Ke-Qin Gao, a professor at Peking University's School of Earth and Space Sciences.
According to Gao, the new pterosaur heralds an ecological shift in the evolution of pterosaurs as they moved from fish-catching, insect-eating to filter-feeding adaptations.
The Greek name rightly calls pterosaurs flying lizards. In terms of size, pterosaurs can range from sparrows to an airbus including the largest vertebrate ever flew — Cretaceous Quetzalcoatlus.
There are two types of Pterosaurs — Rhamphorhynchoids with long tails and Pterodactyloids with shorter tails.
Feature wise, the specimen had a prominent bulky jaw covering 50 percent of the creature's long skull that was almost 5-inch. The wingspan of 3.2 feet was marginally smaller than that of a horned owl, according to Gao.
No Uniformity In Meals
Gao noted that ecological diversification of pterosaurs was preceded by the transition in food patterns and eventually led to a change in the Cretaceous world's terrestrial ecosystems.
Lack of uniformity in meal patterns was conspicuous with a slew of feeding adaptations in force, according to the research results. The feeding patterns ranged from filter-feeding to herbivory with fish-eating, carnivory, and scavenging as other means of food.
The research was able to offer a broad insight into pterosaurs' food patterns by mentioning the specimens from Germany in the mid-18th century to more than 110 pterosaur species traced across the world.
The discoveries included a pterosaur with more than 100 teeth that was unearthed in Utah and the one with the size of cat from Canada's British Columbia.
Meanwhile, researchers in the UK have analyzed the neck of a giant flying reptile Hatzegopteryx belonging to the Azhdarchidae family and confirmed it as a top predator.
Azhdarchids are known for long necks and big jaws with broader wings. They had the biggest flying animals under the group including Quetzalcoatlus.