Scientists have found proof of a prehistoric incident through which a shark leapt out of the water to take down a pterosaur whereas it was mid-flight.
The proof is a fossil of 1 notably unlucky reptile which met a brutal finish – judging by the shark tooth wedged in opposition to considered one of its vertebra.
Researchers from the College of Southern California found the tooth when learning bones on the Los Angeles County Pure Historical past Museum.
Their examine is printed within the journal Peer J, and says the disfigured skeleton provides a window into the interactions of wildlife in the course of the late Cretaceous interval, between 66 and 100 million years in the past.
Pterosaurs have been flying reptiles with a wingspan of 18ft (greater than 5 metres), and weighed about 100 kilos (45kg). In strict scientific phrases they weren’t dinosaurs in any respect, however little is thought about how they lived and behaved.
“Understanding the ecology of those animals is essential to understanding life on Earth via time,” mentioned the examine’s senior creator, Michael Habib.
Dr Habib, an assistant professor at USC, added: “Are there sharks as we speak that hunt seabirds? Sure, there are.
“Is that distinctive or have large sharks been searching flying creatures for hundreds of thousands of years? The reply is sure, they’ve. We now know sharks have been searching flying animals as way back as 80 million years.”
As not too long ago as 66 million years in the past, North America was divided by an enormous waterway referred to as the Western Inside Seaway.
Stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada, the remnants of the waterway as we speak maintain a number of the world’s greatest fossils – particularly within the Smoky Hill Chalk area of Kansas, the place the shark-bitten pterosaur specimen was discovered.
The pterosaur was excavated within the 1960s and saved in storage on the museum earlier than scientists plucked it from a show for additional examine.
In line with the examine, the shark tooth was a really attention-grabbing discover. Of greater than 1,100 specimens of Pteranodon, the species of pterosaur, solely seven, or lower than 1%, present proof of interactions with predators.
The crew needed to rule out that the tooth wasn’t randomly caught to the vertebra, however truly wedged between the ridges – clear proof of a chunk.
They tracked the tooth to a species generally known as Cretoxyrhina mantelli, an 8ft (2.4m) lengthy shark which was comparatively frequent on the time and comparable in look and behavior to as we speak’s nice white sharks, though they don’t seem to be intently associated.
The examine additionally had to determine how the proof of the assault was preserved, as sometimes the highly effective shark bites would have utterly shattered pterosaur bones.
In line with the examine, the tooth simply occurred to get caught on a very bony a part of the neck – providing the uncommon alternative for this fossil to be created.
“We all know large sharks ate pterosaurs, so let’s imagine an enormous quick predatory species might very nicely have eaten this Pteranodon when it entered the water, however we’ll most likely by no means know precisely,” Dr Habib mentioned.