December 6th

Box #6 in our count down is Gnathosaurus…

Days 1-5 of the count down
Days 6-10 of the countdown
Days 11-15 of the count down
Days 16-20 of the count down
Days 21-25 of the count down
Gnathosaurus, a pterosaur with a spatula bill of needle teeth.

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.

2 thoughts on “December 6th

  1. You made Gnathosaurus more interesting that what I’m sure most would think of it. I believe I was introduced to it in a book a prehistoric flying animals, but I’ve largely forgot about it. I suppose things like Pterodactylus, Rhamphorhynchus, Dimophodon, and several Cretaceous pterosaurs overshadow pterosaurs such as it, so it probably makes sense that I’d forget it for a while.
    For today, I will dedicate to Paracrax, a flightless bird from North America that lived during the Oligocene epoch of the Paleogene division of the Tertiary period. First discovered in 1871, the holotype was originally considered a sort of turkey. It was later referred to as a member of the family Cracidae prior to its current classification as a possible member of the family Bathornithidae. Its environment would have been a savannah-like environment and Paracrax itself is known from several bones around the leg region of its body and can overall be assumed that it’s proportions were like that of the phorusrhacids, or “terror birds”. It was most likely a terrestrial, carnivorous bird, similar to the aforementioned “terror birds”, using its beak to weaken and kill its prey. It would have coexisted with mammalian apex predators, namely Archaeotherium, Dinictis, and Hyaenodon, sharing the top predator role with them.

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