Chomp chomp

Look: With a mouth full of teeth, this Pterosaur ate like a whale

Filter-feeding isn’t a new invention.

Originally Published: 
Megan Jacobs

Sergey Krasovskiy/Stocktrek Images/Getty Images

Pterosaurs are well known for their colossal wingspans and decorative head crests.

But rarely do they boast impressive mouthfuls of pearly whites.

A newly-discovered pterosaur species had at least 480 teeth in its long, spatula-shaped beak.

Megan Jacobs

Writing last week in the journal Paläontologische Zeitschrift, researchers detail the discovery of its nearly complete skeleton from a quarry in Germany.

Called Balaenognathus maeuseri, the species’ generic (first) name means “bowhead whale jaw” in Latin.

Megan Jacobs

kampee patisena/Moment/Getty Images

It was discovered by accident. Researchers were digging for crocodile bones when they stumbled upon the pterosaur.

Its remains were tucked inside a limestone slab and date back to the Late Jurassic period.

Martill et. al/PalZ

The pterosaur’s teeth were long and skinny, which helped it feed like bowheads and other species of baleen whales.

Chase Dekker Wild-Life Images/Moment/Getty Images

Baleen whales do not have teeth, but rather rows of fine bristles made of keratin.

They feed by filtering out mouthfuls of water to trap prey — which would have been a similar technique to Balaenognathus.

Ashley Cooper/Corbis/Getty Images

Some ducks are also filter-feeders, holding onto prey with teeth-like structures called lamellae.

The opening at the end of Balaenognathus’ beak would have allowed it to suck up water and expel it out the sides.

Martill et. al/PalZ

“...some of the teeth have a hook on the end, which we’ve never seen before in a pterosaur ever.

These small hooks would have been used to catch the tiny shrimp the pterosaur likely fed on – making sure they went down its throat and weren’t squeezed between the teeth.”

-David Martill, primary study author, in a press release.

Only one other pterosaur species is known to have more teeth than Balaenognathus.

Pterodaustro, which lived in modern-day Argentina, boasted a mouthful of 1,000 chompers.


Megan Jacobs

But Balaenognathus’ skinny, hooked teeth are unique to its species — and showcase a feeding style that still exists in many animals today.

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