Pterosaurs were one of the most prominent groups of flying dinosaurs, the forerunners of modern birds. Among them, several species of the genus Rhamphorhynchus stood out for their long, thin, but strong tails with a tassel at the end. The basis of the Rhamphorhynchus' diet was fish, which these reptiles caught by diving into the water and using a long mouth armed with teeth. Fragments of fish bones and scales are often found among their fossils.
However, a new specimen studied by a team of paleontologists led by René Hoffmann of the Ruhr University in Bochum showed that the Rhamphorhynchians were also hunting other marine life. The remains of a cephalopod, dated to about 150 million years old, have preserved the tooth of the lizard that grabbed it. Scientists write about them in an article published in the journal Scientific Reports.
A unique specimen was discovered in 2012 near the Bavarian town of Eichstätt. Here, in the old limestone quarry of Solnhofen, numerous remains of Jurassic animals, including dinosaurs and pterosaurs, are found. In that distant era, this now mountainous area was warm tropical shallow waters dotted with small islands.
Fossil of a squid Plesioteuthis with a clear tooth mark of a pterosaur stuck in its mantle / © René Hoffmann et al., 2020
Of course, the marine animal communities that were hunted by the pterosaurs flourished here. Among them, paleontologists found a perfectly preserved specimen of a 30-centimeter squid belonging to the now extinct genus Plesioteuthis and retaining a clear tooth mark of the predatory ramphorhynchus.
It looks like the pterosaur dived in pursuit of the mollusk, grabbed it, but could not pull it out and finish it. The prey could, for example, be too large and strong for the predator, or it was too deep, and the lizard could not raise it to the surface, leaving a broken tooth in the mantle.