Flying reptiles adapted, survived

July 7th, 2011 - 8:18 pm ICT by IANS  

London, July 7 (IANS) Pterosaurs, the first flying reptiles, were not driven to extinction by the birds. In fact, they continued to diversify and adapt for millions of years afterwards.

A new study by Katy Prentice, done as an under-graduate at the University of Bristol, shows that the pterosaurs evolved in a most unusual way, becoming more and more specialised through their 160 million years on the Earth.

“Usually, when a new group of animals or plants evolve, they quickly try out all the options. When we did this study, we thought pterosaurs would be the same,” said Katy, reports the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.

“Pterosaurs were the first flying animals - they appeared on Earth 50 million years before Archaeopteryx, the first bird - and they were good at what they did. But the amazing thing is that they didn’t really begin to evolve until after the birds had appeared,” added Katy.

Katy conducted the study with her supervisors Marcello Ruta and Michael Benton, according to a Bristol statement.

They looked at 50 different pterosaurs ranging in size from a blackbird to the largest of all, Quetzalcoatlus, with a wingspan of 12 metres, four times the size of the largest flying bird today, the albatross.

They tracked how all the pterosaur groups came and went through their history and recorded in detail their body shapes and adaptations.

The new work shows that pterosaurs remained conservative for 70 million years, and then started to experiment with all kinds of new modes of life. After birds emerged and became successful, the pterosaurs were not pushed to extinction, as had been suggested.

It seems they responded to the new flyers by becoming larger and trying out new lifestyles.

“Pterosaurs were at the height of their success about 125 million years ago, just as the birds became really diverse too,” said Marcello Ruta.

Pterosaurs dwindled and disappeared 65 million years ago during the mass extinction that killed the dinosaurs.

–Indo-Asian News service

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