Scientists from the University of Southern California have revealed the prehistoric sharks could fly out of the water to catch their prey, according to new research.
“We now know sharks were hunting flying animals as long ago as 80 million years,” said Michael Habib, of the University of Southern California, to USC News.
The discovery came after finding a giant shark’s tooth lodged in the neck of a huge flying pterosaur. It was actually discovered in the 1960s but has languished in storage until this year, when scientists took it out for re-examination.
The pterosaur fossil was from a Pteranodon, a huge and aggressive flying carnivore from prehistoric times, sometimes called the “king of the skies.” Pteranodons weighed about 98 pounds and had a wingspan of 18 feet, meaning they were a sizable beast.
In this fossil, a sharks tooth was found embedded between ridges in the creatures neck vertebrae. Scientists say that the location of the tooth is clear evidence of an attack on the Pteranodon by a giant prehistoric shark.
The species of shark in question is known as Cretoxyrhina mantelli. Cretoxyrhina mantelli is thought to be similar in size and power to a modern-day Great White Shark.
This is thought to be the first ever evidence unearthed of a shark interacting with a pterosaur and scientists have been speculating about how exactly the tooth came to be there.
The most popular theory is that it targeted the Pteranodon while jumping out of the water. Modern-day sharks are known to jump out of the water at times to try and catch seabirds. It, therefore, doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to assume that prehistoric sharks were capable of the same feat.
However, the USC scientists do admit that there are other possibilities as well. Pteranodons are thought to have been able to land on water as well, although it is assumed that they were slow and immobile when taking off and landing. It is possible that this particular Pteranodon was attacked while sitting on the surface of the water. Or it could also have been caught while in the process of taking off or landing.
We will never know the truth for sure, but the discovery is still an extremely important one.
“Understanding the ecology of these animals is important to understanding life on Earth through time,” as Michael Habib explained.