The pterosaurs (Pterosauria), flying reptiles that populated the Earth at the same time as the dinosaurs, had the ability to fly from birth, show the work of British paleontologists.
According to professors David Unwin and Charles Deeming, universities of Leicester and Lincoln, this discovery is of great importance since no vertebrate past or present has this ability.
In addition, it challenges our understanding of the way these animals live, as well as the functioning of the ecosystems in which they lived with other animals, including dinosaurs and mammals.
Until today, many scientists believed that these reptiles could fly away only when they had almost reached adult size, just like birds or bats.
This hypothesis was based on the discovery of fossilized pterosaur embryos found in China, whose wings were poorly developed.
British paleontologists question this theory following the comparison of fossilized eggs and embryos of the species Hamipterus tianshanensis with data on prenatal growth of birds and crocodiles. They found that the eggs were still in an early stage of development and far from hatching.
In addition, the discovery in China and Argentina of more advanced embryos that died just before hatching also proves, in their view, that pterosaurs had the ability to fly from birth.
Our analysis shows that pterosaurs were different from birds and bats, and the comparison of their anatomy reveals new modes of development in extinct species.
“Another fundamental difference between pterosaur babies and baby birds or bats is that they [pterosaurs] had no parental care and that they had to feed and care at birth,” says his colleague David Unwin.
According to paleontologists, the ability of pterosaurs to fly quickly gave them “a survival mechanism” that allowed some of them to escape the carnivorous dinosaurs.
It is clear, however, that many of them had to die at a very young age in the fangs of predators.
A better understanding of the development of pterosaur flying will require further research, the researchers agree, but it will now need to take into account the current work published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.