Researchers have revealed astonishing evidence of a ferocious mid air battle between a shark and a pterosaur.
USC researchers studying bones at the L.A. County Natural History Museum, were shocked to find a fossil from the fearsome flying reptile that had a shark tooth lodged in it.
They believe the find is the result of a fearsome shark six feet long leaping into the air to try and take down the much larger pterosaur with a wingspan of 18 feet.
The sorry outcome for one particular flying reptile is brutally recorded on a fossil where a shark chomped its neck, leaving a telltale tooth wedged against a vertebra.
Researchers found that the tooth was stuck between ridges in the neck vertebrae, which was clear evidence of a bite.
It’s possible the attack occurred when the Pteranodon was most vulnerable, sprawled atop the water, said Michael Habib, an assistant professor of integrative anatomical sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and a research associate at the Natural History Museum
While Pteranodon could land and take off on water, they were ungainly at sea and took considerable time to take off.
‘We know big sharks ate pterosaurs, so we could say a big fast predatory species could very well have eaten this Pteranodon when it entered the water, but we’ll probably never know exactly,’ Habib said.
The tooth belonged to Cretoxyrhina mantelli, a shark common at the time.
It was large, fast and powerful, about 8 feet long and roughly comparable in appearance and behavior to today’s great white shark, though it’s not closely related.
This is the first documented occurrence of this shark species interacting with a pterosaur, the study found.
‘Understanding the ecology of these animals is important to understanding life on Earth through time,’ said the study’s senior author, .
‘Are there sharks today that hunt seabirds? Yes, there are. Is that unique or have big sharks been hunting flying creatures for millions of years? The answer is yes, they have.
‘We now know sharks were hunting flying animals as long ago as 80 million years.’
The study appears in the Dec. 14 issue of Peer J — the Journal of Life and Environmental Sciences.
The fossil was excavated in the 1960s and kept in storage at the museum before scientists plucked it from a display for further study.
They were intrigued by the embedded shark tooth because of more than 1,100 specimens of Pteranodon, a species of pterosaur, only seven, or less than 1 percent, show evidence of predator-prey interaction, according to the study.
The fossil was found in the Smoky Hill Chalk region of Kansas, where this specimen was found.
In the late Cretaceous period, North America was divided by a giant waterway called the Western Interior Seaway, which included the region.
It was a biologically prolific region from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada.
Some of the world’s best fossils from this time are found here, including the Smoky Hill Chalk region of Kansas, where this specimen was found.