Box #6 in our count down is Gnathosaurus…
Gnathosaurus: the “Jawed Lizard”
Gnathosaurus was a medium-sized pterosaur from the Solnhofen limestone of Late Jurassic Germany. It was one of many pterosaurs that flocked to the islands in the area alongside the landlocked locals like Archaeopteryx and Compsognathus. Like Anurognathus, it is an example of how varied and specialized pterosaurs could be, only this time instead of paving the path of nocturnal bats, it lived the life of a spoonbill long before the modern bird took on the role.
These animals strode slowly through the water with their beaks partly open. They swept their heads smoothly in wide arcs from side to side, and the instant they felt a small fish, crustacean, or other tasty morsel they closed their beaks with a snap.
Gnathosaurus did not have the spoon-shaped bills of their modern counterparts, but their long, narrow jaws had a rosette of needle-teeth at the end that were arranged like a flat spatula. A fossil of a close relative preserves soft tissue inside the beak, which was extremely sensitive to even the smallest and fastest possible morsels, just like modern spoonbills.
Gnathosaurus was a distant cousin to more “derived” pterosaurs like Pterodactylus. Short tails are the most obvious difference between this group and other, more “basal” groups like Dimorphodon and Rhamphorhynchus. Perhaps Gnathosaurus looked a little like a strange bird-cat wading through the water, standing tall on both its legs and folded wings like a wyvern of mythology. It probably would not have been uncommon to see severeal Gnathosaurus at the same shallow riverbed. Not working together exactly, but taking advantage of more than one body stirring up critters from one sheltered hollow to another.