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Pterosaur Ecology Scenario 2

December 7, 2014

Another one.

***

It is dawn, in the late Spring of the eastern ranges of the Himalayas. The valleys are still dark, yet the canopy is alive with sounds of numerous creatures, mostly birds and primates, whose voices echo through the mountains. Among the earlier wakers is a Yunlong(Nephelaia muticus), whose long, proffound bellows are added to the mixture, as he climbs the branches.

The Yunlong is a large wukongopterid, with a wingspan of 2.5 meters and a slightly longer body length, thanks to his long neck, head and tail. He bears a largely grey pelage, with a black snout, crest, wings and caudal vane, which is shallow and encompasses most of the tail. The eyes are blue, and a white band occurs in front of them, while the tail bears a series of long, plumes like lateral bristles. Like most of his wukongopterid kin, the Yunlong is an adept climber, running and jumping along the branches. He finds a fig tree, and rests by, picking the fruits with his long jaws, joined by arboreal mammals and pigeons. He will happily snatch any of them as well, so they keep their distance from the pterosaur.

As the sun rays begin to illuminate the valley, the dark areas of his body begin to acquire colour. Like the colourful skin of many primates, the structure of the Yunlong’s dark patches allows a degree of iridescence, compensating for the limits of natural integrument, and as such a brilliant green begins to coat the snout, crest, tail vane and wings, shining in multiple different tones. As the daylight increases, it soon becomes a verdant light spectable, turning a drag looking animal into a beautiful example of how nature exploits loopholes.

Another male approaches, taking flight, the short, broad wings flapping franticly until he lands nearby, in a lower branch. The established male is startled, but his coat sleeks back to normal after seeing that the intruder is no threat, and both forage together, harassing other animals that come nearby. A prosimian is unlucky enough to be caught by the jaws of the newcomer, the teeth grasping the primate’s foot. The mammal hisses, trying to bite at the pterosaur, but the Yunlong raises the head and lowers it rapidly, the mammal colliding violently against a branch. He repeats this a few more times, until the prosimian’s bones are broken and blood drips from its mouth, too weak to move. The pterosaur then brings the prey to the companion, who accepts it, calmly tearing off an arm and eating it.

Above the valley forests, in the cliffs, sunlight is abundant, but the air is still cold. In the rooks rests a roockery of Himalayan Humas(Theriogyps himalayensis), a species of istiodactylid pterosaur. It is mostly covered in a thick, dark brown coat with small, light stripes, aside from the head, where the (still thick) coat is of a beige tone. Both the wing uppersides and the naked rostrum are of a very dark tone, while the wing undersides are white. At night, these pterosaurs coddle about in the cliffs in large numbers, their wing membranes as retracted as possible, waiting patiently for thermals to rise. A few launch, flying about for more favourable perches, towards the illuminated areas, where they don’t have to worry about insulation as much.

The Himalayan Huma is one of four species of istiodactylids that occur in the area, a rather average sized member of their kin at a wingspan of 2.7 meters. Another one has its representative resting alone in a cliff, near the Humas. This is the Paati (Sarcoraptor terpsymbrotos), a rather larger animal at a wingspan of 3.4 meters. She bears a promeniently black pelt and wing membranes, with the exception of the white underside and yellow lower jaw. In spite of her intimidating size, the Humas do not fear their larger relative, behaving as if she was yet another member in their flock. She spreads her left wing, flexing it whiles he waits for the right time to rise.

After a few more hours, when morning is well established, some Himalayan Humas take flight, gliding in the air with only the occasional wing flaps, and slowly rising in the thermals. The Paati joins them too, and the roockerie is largely deserted, the istiodactylid pterosaurs now rising in search of food. Dedicated scavengers as they are, they cover large distances on their proportionally massive wings, soaring effordlessly as they scour the ground. The group disperses, quickly soaring away, each individual miles now from their roost.

One of the Humas is rather lucky. In a river bank lies the corpse of a gharial, still largely unclaimed except for a few birds pecking at the empty eye sockets. The pterosaur ceases to flap his wings, slowly losing altitude, descending faster as he closes them slightly, opening them fully again when he is nearing the carcasse, flapping them as he gracefully lands on it. He inspect the corpse, turning his head to the crocodillian’s flanks, right beneath the scute armour. The serrated teeth are enough to tug at the skin, ripping out the leathery thickness with some effort, but the carcasse’s weight and immobility – combined with his own) ensures it stays in place, and soon he manages to break the hide, ripping out small chunks of flesh.

Diving his snout into the flank, he rips out as much flesh as he can, eating as quickly as possible. He manages to decarnate a good portion of the gharial’s right flank, before another Humas shows up, followed by another, then three at once. Soon, these six pterosaurs attract the attention of even more, including a small group of another Huma species, the Vedic Huma (T. indicus), a similar sized animal with a black upperside and rostrum and a golden head and underside. Not even an hour passed, and the carcasse is a bloody framework, most of the muscles of the limbs and flanks gone, the viscerae just starting to be exploited and some pterosaurs moving towards the tail, where the skin is thicker, but the gradual work of ripping from the base gradually exposes the abundant flesh. Humas screech and fight with each other, trying to get the best pieces before another one does.

The fights come to a halt when the Paati arrives, landing a few meters from the carcasse. As she walks towards it, the smaller pterosaurs give wide space, her more robust jaws being something to be weary off. She bites into the gharial’s exposed guts, pulling them out in large, bloody and brown chunks. As she is distracted, the Humas gather up and start pulling the rest of the guts. She hisses, but in their frenzy they could harass her out of the carcasse, so she too simply simply digs into it, fighting off whatever smaller pterosaurs get in her way.

An our later, and the torso has been emptied, now the scavengers quickly decarnating the tail. Some have already left for another carcasse, though several remain, resting about as lazily as in the roockerie. Some sit next to each other, preening the same individuals they fought just minutes ago for food. The Paati wrestles the remaining competitors out, having the rest of the tail musculature for herself.

From the air, another scavenger appears, an animal with a wingspan of 2.5 meters, albeit with a body considerably larger than that of the istiodactylids. She is not as elegant a soarer as them, with proportionally shorter wings and a thicker bodily frame, but nonetheless slowly descends gracefully, landing with a far superior weight and force. She is a Duggalal (Barotibia asiatica), a species of dsungaripterid pterosaur. Her body is covered by a mostly grey coat aside from a grey band that runs along the neck and shoulders, while the wing membranes and tail are black and her beak and crest are of an earthly brown. Like in many other dsungaripterids, the teeth are completely encased in their sockets, not differentiated from the beak.

She inspects the carcasse, taking out the left foreleg bones and cracking them with her powerful jaws, shallowing the marrow rich, bloody shards. Initially, this activity doesn’t bother the Paati, and both pterosaurs forage what’s left of the corpse. However, as the Duggalal chooses to pick the left hindlimb, the istiodactylid hisses, provoking the dsungaripterid to action. The Duggalal bobs her head upwards, showing off her powerful beak, puffing her coat and raising her chest. The Paati reluctantly retreats, just narrowly avoiding a bite from the bone crushing jaws.

Now the Duggalal has the carcasse all to herself, and the other pterosaurs depart, not risking being permanently crippled or killed. They launch into the sky, some passing above the larger scavenger and almost losing a limb to the snapping jaws, but ultimately she simply focuses on the corpse. Bones and still quite a bit of caudal muscles are left to her alone, and she leisurely cracks a shoulderplate.

In the tree, the Yunlongs rest, panting under the heat of the soon-to-be-midday Sun. The earliest arrived male lays simply on a branch, wings and hindlegs hanging, while the other rests in front of him, the limbs neatly tucked near the body, the long tail hanging instead. Both sleep, a series of short naps, their stomachs full of figs and the remains of the prosimian. Above them lands a Monal Krawja(Xenopica orientalis), a crow sized scaphognathine with similarly iridescent wing membranes and tail vane, of a blue tone instead. The body is white, while the head is black, and the naked rostrum is dark brown in colour. The bright yellow eyes keep tabs on the larger pterosaurs, as the Krawja bites into the figs.

A flock of smaller pterosaurs land along the branches, light brown in colour, rather drab aside from the white beaks. These are juveniles tapejarids of some sort, climbing about and also feeding on the figs. The Krawja, initially startled, simply waits, and when one comes close enough, its jaws snap, catching it. While the scaphognathine dismembers its prey, the Yunlongs are rather oblivious to them, even tolerating when one lands nearby. They simply rest, lethargically, only looking with vague curiosity.

The commotion does attract the attention of a Striated Wyvern (Amphipterus sakeri), a campylognathoidid with a 1.9 meter wingspan, predominantly brown with a golden underside and eye markings, and several white stripes along the wings. Though drawn in by the tapejarids, it can pose a threat to even the Yunlongs. Diving in, the aerial predator fails to catch a tapejarid, and is thus motivated to target the larger, still unaware prey. Flying around the tree in circles, it calculates an apropriate angle to strike, and thus dives, aiming for the earlier arriving one.

The Striated Wyvern grabs the Yunlong by the neck, snatching him off the branch. To heavy to be carried off by the predator, both pterosaurs fall, slowly thanks to the Striated Wyvern’s gliding skills. Just realising what happened, the Yunlong flaps his wings franticly, biting the campylognathoidid’s wing. Both now drop abruptly, the Wyvern’s teeth pressing on the Yunlong’s neck, while the latter beats the attacker with his wings, his teeth trespassing the membrane. Though the predator is severaly injured, and in an awkward position, it still keeps biting, the teeth danerously close to the airways and larger blood vessels.

Just then, the other male Yunlong flies down the tree, jumping on the campylognathoidid and biting its cruropatagium. At this, the predator is forced to release its grip, hissing at the new aggressor. Seeing no way to kill either of them, the campylognathoidid tries to launch, but the two Yunlong attack it, biting and flapping their wings viciously. Only when the Striated Wyvern stops moving do they stop, and fly back to the tree, their short wings flapping rapidly, quickly carrying them to the nearer branches, from which they climb to the more secluded areas.

With most of its bones broken and organs ruptured, the Striated Wyvern is left to die, gurgling blood. To make matters worse, the fight attracted the attention of another animal, the Ghatts Suror (Sylvopteryx indicus). A lonchodectid, it bears a white head and underwise, brown back and wing membranes, orange hindlimbs and a black rostrum and eye markings. Like most of its kin, it forages on the ground, using its long limbs to walk about in the forest floor in search of edible animal and plant matter. She looks curiously at the fallen predator, pecking at the right wing, picking it with her long, toothed jaws, and dragging the Striated Wyvern along, turning it about and shaking it, as if it was a toy.

The Striated Wyvern dies at last, but the Ghatts Suror doesn’t seem to care, keeping its macabre play. Finally, after an hour or so, she goes elsewhere, continuing her wandering. From above, a Huma sees the corpse, and lands, picking it up with its jaws before launching off again. Though risking being mobbed by other pterosaurs, feeding in the midst of the wood is a dangerous affair, and as such it preffers to find a safer spot to eat. Rising on a thermal, it finds a lone rocky outcrop, where it lands and quickly begins ripping the campylognathoidid’s flesh, rapidly doing away with the wing membranes before eating from the torso. It is lucky indeed, as the only other pterosaur to notice its feeding is another istiodactylid, which doesn’t bother to try to steal the corpse away. In the span of an hour, it is able to do away with the cadaver, before launching into the air once again.

By the river, all that remains of the gharial’s corpse is the skull, and a few vertebrae. The scavengers are long gone, but another pterosaur lands nearby, a Campbell’s Cran (Eugeranos campbelli). It is a chaoyangopterid, bearing a largerly yellow pelage, aside from the brown head, upper neck and back, grey wing membranes with small white dots and beak, and black stripes under the eyes. It is a female, and she has come to lay her eggs by the river bank. Cautiously looking around, she begins to dig, creating a meter deep cove where she lays about 38 white eggs, before covering it up again. Standing above the nest, she looks around for potential threats, before flying away.

Above, the aerial ventures of the istiodactylids in search of carcasses bear witness to a much larger flyer. With a wingspan of 10 meters, the Garuda (Vahanornis magnificens) is a typical example of a giant azhdarchid, one of the largest flying organisms in the world, capable of flying anywhere in the world. Predominantly grey with black wing membranes and an orange beak and head crest, it soars calmly, surpassing the beaks, paying no attention to the smaller flyers, that sorround it in curiousity. It produces loud bellows, that spread for miles across the sky. It is simply in passage, calling to other members of its kin for unclear reasons. Circumverting the peaks, it soars away, flying southwards, away from the mountain ranges.

As afternoon nears to a close, the istiodactylid rookeries are filled once more, preparing for the night. Some of the pterosaurs regurgitate their day’s catch, feeding other pterosaurs, relatives or mates perhaps. They bask, laying on the rocks and extending their wings, perhaps to help process the noxious bacteria in their digestive tracks, or simply because they want to. Fighting for the best spots ensues, and will go on until night settles in.

The Yunlongs fly from the fig tree, no longer holding any edible fruits. They fly and hop amidst the branches, playing and prancing about, stopping occasionally to rest and preen each other.

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