Was there really a vampire who fed on dinosaur blood?
Prepare to be confronted with something scarier (and cuter) than Jurassic Park‘s raptors. In the mid to late Jurassic, the world was full of furry, flying vampire pterosaurs who fed on dino blood.
The Jeholopterus was a small pterosaur who was found in Northeastern China. Though originally identified as an insect-eater, an odd mystery about the animal eventually led one researcher to suggest the creature was actually feeding on the blood of nearby sauropods. Let’s take a look at the discovery of Jeholopterus, and what spurred great debate over whether it was a blood-sucker.
The top image is artist Eurypterid’s interpretation of Jeholopterus.
Soaring over China in the Jurassic
Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences published the journal article A nearly complete articulated rhamphorhynchoid pterosaur with exceptionally well-preserved wing membranes and “hairs” from Inner Mongolia, Northeast China. The paper recorded the discovery of a new pterosaur, Jeholopterus ninchengensis.
The researchers named the pterosaur for the area of its discovery, Ningcheng County of Inner Mongolia. The wingspan of Jeholopterus is a little less than three feet and the pterosaur likely weighed in around five to ten pounds – a little smaller than the average Barn Owl. Several fibers of “hair” are seen among the wings and body in the specimen, along with imprints from a large amount of soft tissue. The skull of the fossil is crushed, limiting interpretation of the head.
The authors placed Jeholopterus within the Anurognathidae group – a group of small pterosaurs known for feeding on insects. But Jeholopterus, unlike most pterosaurs, does not have a long beak. This absence played into speculation about Jeholopterus’ interactions with dinosaurs.
The Vampire Theory
In the 2003 article The Chinese vampire and other overlooked pterosaur ptreasures published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, David Peters observed a couple of unusual features in Jeholopterus separating it from the average Jurassic pterosaur.
Peters is not a practicing archaeologist, but an art director and natural history writer with several peer reviewed journal articles under his belt. Peters did his work using a scanned and enlarged image of the Jeholopterus fossil uncovered by the researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Using imaging techniques and Photoshop, Peters created tracings of the Jeholopterus specimen in order to elaborate on the soft tissue features of the pterosaur and the skull, as the one in the fossil is crushed. It is important to note Peters did not examine the fossil itself, only images of the fossil.