FEARSOME sharks may how ‘flown’ out of the Earth’s oceans while hunting flying dinosaurs, scientists now believe.
Telltale bone fragments of a tooth found lodged in the neck of a huge pterosaur hint the predators didn’t just dominate prehistoric waters.
Those who studied the bones, kept at the LA County Natural History Museum, say they give a rare glimpse into the hunting habits of prehistoric sharks.
“Understanding the ecology of these animals is important to understanding life on Earth through time,” said Michael Habib, of the University of Southern California.
“Are there sharks today that hunt seabirds? Yes, there are. Is that unique or have big sharks been hunting flying creatures for millions of years? The answer is yes.
“We now know sharks were hunting flying animals as long ago as 80 million years,” the professor told USC News.
Scientists point to the face sharks are often seen breaching the water to catch birds[/caption]
Pteranodon sported a conspicuous crested skull and had a wingspan of 18 feet[/caption]
The tooth fossil was excavated in the 1960s and kept in storage at the museum before scientists plucked it from a display for further study.
It was found wedged into the remains of of Pteranodon, an aggressive species of pterosaur (flying dinosaur).
The huge flying reptiles were the masters of the sky when dinosaurs walked the Earth and would eating anything they could fit in their mouth.
Pteranodon sported a conspicuous crested skull, had a wingspan of 18 feet and weighed about seven stone.
Fossils of teeth from a Cretoxyrhina mantelli which lived about 80m years ago[/caption]
Researchers found that the shark’s tooth was stuck between ridges in the neck vertebrae, which was clear evidence of a bite.
The tooth belonged to Cretoxyrhina mantelli – a monstrous shark said to be very similar to today’s menacing Great White.
Such a fossil discovery is so rare that this is the first documented occurrence of this shark species interacting with a pterosaur.
USC scientists have documented the shark attack in a new paper[/caption]
MOST READ IN WORLD NEWS
While the researchers will never know exactly how the shark struck, one theory is that it targeted the dinosaur while it was taking off from water.
They say it’s also possible the attack occurred when the Pteranodon was at its most vulnerable, sprawled on to top of the water while hunting for fish.
While Pteranodons could land and take off on water, they were ungainly at sea and took considerable time to take off and get high.