Paleontologists discover 120-million-year-old "Ghost Dragon" in China

Which of the following hypothetical scenarios do you think would be more terrifying: a modern-day world inhabited by Pterosauria (famous for being the first known vertebrates to evolve the capability of flight), or a modern-day world inhabited by Dromaeosauridae (famous for their sickle-like killing claws, among other things)?

I happen to be a card-carrying member of team Dromaeosauridae. But when I caught a glimpse of the teeth on Guidraco venator — the name of the recently discovered pterosaur specimen pictured up top — I felt my allegiance to the killing claw waver. Guidraco's skull measured 15 inches long. Its teeth? Over 2 inches long. Those, ladies and gentlemen, are some terrifying fucking teeth.

But my fear might be unwarranted. Truth be told, Guidraco venator — which translates, awesomely, to "ghost dragon hunter" — may not have done any actual hunting with those ridiculous chompers; whether pterosaurs were scavengers, predators, or some combination of the two is a point of contention among paleontologists when it comes to a number of pterosaur species (a commonly cited factoid in many a late-night Pterosauria vs. Dromaeosauridae debate). In the paper describing the holotype specimen, paleontologist Alexander Kellner writes that Guidraco likely hunted actively for fish; but paleontologist Eberhard Frey told Wired's David Mosher that he disagrees:

Just imagine yourself as this creature. How would you catch living fish with such needles? You have no fingers, no fork, nothing to remove a fish if it gets stuck...They might have randomly collected what was there and probed it with a spaghetti-like tongue. If edible, they'd eat it. If not, they'd bump it out.

So for now, whether or not a pterosaur's predatory abilities can be incorporated into the great Pterosauria vs. Dromaeosauridae debate goes unresolved. But according to Mosher, there's a mystery extending beyond Guidraco's eating habits that has paleontologists puzzled:

Most pterosaur fossils have turned up in silty and fine-grained sediments in what is now Brazil, but the new find, from the Jiufotang Formation in northeast China, adds an interesting twist to the evolutionary histories of pterosaurs.

"[I]ts similarities to some Brazilian pterosaurs show that these animals were probably distributed globally," paleontologist David Martill of the University of Portsmouth, another pterosaur researcher who wasn't involved in the study, wrote to Wired.

"We can [now] hope to find them anywhere in the world where early Cretaceous strata crop out. We have found some tantalising fragments in England, some dating back to discoveries made in the 19th century, that indicate similar animals."

[Natturwissenschaften via Wired]
Top image by Xialin Wang et al. via Wired