The Upper Jurassic Laminated Limestones of the Frankish Jura in Bavaria, southern Germany, have long been known for the abundance, diversity, and exceptional quality of preservation of their pterosaur fossils. Paleontologists from England, Germany and Mexico recently discovered an unusual new fossil of a pterosaur species in a German quarry.

The fossil had more than 400 teeth that looked like the teeth of a nit comb. Its jaws are long, bent upward like a ball, and at the end it tapers out like a spoonbill. His mouth ends without teeth, but both jaws are covered with teeth from the front of his smile to the back.

The pterosaur belongs to a family of pterosaurs called Ctenochasmatidae, known from the limestone in Bavaria, Germany, where it is also found.

Scientists called it Balaenognathus maeuseri. The generic name roughly translates to whale mouth because of the filtering feeding style. The specific name is named after one of the co-authors Matthias Mäuser who sadly passed away while writing the paper.

Professor David Martill, lead author of the study, from the University of Portsmouth’s School of the Environment, Geography and Geosciences, said: “And what’s even more remarkable is that some of the teeth have a hook, which we’ve never seen before in a pterosaur. These tiny hooks would have been used to catch the tiny shrimp the pterosaur probably fed on — to make sure they passed down its throat and weren’t squeezed between its teeth.

“This was a rather accidental find of a well-preserved skeleton with near-perfect articulation. It suggests that the carcass must have been in a very early stage of decay and that all the joints, including their ligaments, are still viable. It must be nearly buried in sediment immediately after his death.

Balaenognathus maeuseri
The bones of Balaenognathus maeuseri have been found in the limestone slab. Credit: University of Portsmouth

The new pterosaur’s teeth indicate a remarkable feeding strategy as it waded through the water. It would funnel water into its spoon-shaped beak and then use its teeth to squeeze out extra liquid while trapping food in its mouth.

The species most likely swam across shallow lagoons, suckling on small copepods and water shrimp before filtering them out with its teeth, much like ducks and flamingos.

Professor Martin said: “Matthias was a kind and cordial colleague of a kind you can hardly find. To preserve his memory, we named the pterosaur after him.”

The specimen is currently on display at Bamberg’s Natural History Museum.

Magazine reference:

  1. Martill, DM, Frey, E., Tischlinger, H. et al. A new pterodactyloid pterosaur with a unique filter-feeding apparatus from the Late Jurassic of Germany. PalZ (2023). DOI: 10.1007/s12542-022-00644-4