The male Thalassodromeus feels lucky tonight. He has spotted a female walking along a riverbank not far away, her wings carefully folded up and back as she moves across the sand on four limbs. She is smaller than the male and lacks the impressive, colourful crest that raises like a crescent-shaped sail from the top of his head. It is mating season for these pterosaurs, and the male has not had much luck impressing other females this year.
When he sees the female look over in his direction, he puffs himself up, raising up onto his hindlimbs and spreading his impressive four-and-a-half-metre wingspan. He flaps a few times, raising his head to hoot softly. ‘Come, hither,’ his body language says.
The female watches for a moment, then goes back to rooting through the riverbank vegetation for small vertebrates to eat. The male deflates momentarily, but then turns back determinedly. The female is obviously just playing hard to get.
He ambles closer and uses the short claws on his forelimbs to scramble up a nearby rock pile, figuring this will make him look more impressive. He hoots again, spreading his wings and flapping them slowly, bobbing his head so that the colours of his crest flash in the sun.
The female raises her head, looking alert. The male is thrilled. He has her attention! He redoubles his efforts, hooting and flapping and puffing himself up.
The female suddenly spreads her wings, using her forearms to launch herself upward into flight. She flaps away urgently.
The male does not have time to feel perplexed. Before he can move, he is snapped up into a pair of enormous, three-metre-long jaws, lined with lethal rows of teeth. The Thalassodromeus had not noticed the huge Giganotosaurus coming up behind him until it was far, far too late.
The Giganotosaurus, among the largest predators ever to live on land, crunches down on the Thalassodromeus’ body, the pterosaurs’ delicate bones crunching like eggshells. The theropod throws its head back like a modern bird of prey and swallows its prey with satisfaction, thinking it could develop a taste for pterosaur.