Pterosaurs Were Super-Social Flying Reptiles

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A tragedy that claimed the lives of hundreds of pterosaurs 120 million years ago is now providing a slice of prehistoric life, revealing that these dinosaur-era flying reptiles were extremely social creatures.

Discovery of the disaster site, described in the latest issue of the journal Current Biology, includes the first known 3-D pterosaur eggs, thousands of fossilized pterosaur bones, and nearly fully intact pterosaur skulls of both males and females. The remains represent a new pterosaur genus and species: the formidable-looking Hamipterus tianshanensis.

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Sediments at the site strongly suggest that a huge colony of these large flying reptiles bit the dust during a violent storm. Beforehand, young and old alike were enjoying life next to what was then a peaceful, scenic lake.

Go on a behind-the-scenes tour of how information is extracted from ancient fossils.
History Museum, London/Mark Witton

Pterosaurs therefore definitely were not solo, or lonesome. Adults lived around youngsters in crowded surroundings that must have been buzzing with social activity.

"Based on the discoveries, we know that this pterosaur lived together with other pterosaurs and laid its eggs in the bank of the ancient lake, similar (behavior) to that of some modern birds, such as flamingos," lead author Xiaolin Wang told Discovery News.

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Wang, a vertebrate paleontologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, added that male and female pterosaurs looked very different from each other in terms of size, shape and heftiness, with males of this particular species sporting an elaborate crest that they might have used to woo potential mates.

Wang and his colleagues studied the fossils found at the site, located in the Turpan-Hami Basin, south of the Tian Shan Mountains in Xinjiang, northwestern China.

Back in the prehistoric day, the pterosaurs must have been attracted to the area because of food opportunities and the lakeside's moist environment.