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Simple, three-dimensional, digital models of the crania and mandibles of 22 pterosaurs – 13 pterodactyloids and nine non-pterodactyloids (‘rhamphorhynchoids’) – were generated to investigate gross-level mechanical aspects of the skulls as they would related to feeding behaviour such as bite force and speed of jaw motions. The key parameter was the determination of second moments of area of the mid-muzzle region and the computation of the bending moment relative to the occiput. The shorter, stockier skulls of basal ‘rhamphorhynchoids’ were the strongest for their size in terms of potential resistance to dorso-ventral bending, and this finding correlates with their robust dentitions. More derived ‘rhamphorhynchoids’ showed the start of a trend towards weaker skulls, but faster jaw adduction was interpreted to be an adaptation for the snatching of small prey. Pterodactyloids continued the trend to lengthen the skull and to reduce its cross-sectional area, resulting in less stiff skulls, but more rapid opening and closing of the jaws. Changes in the rear of the skulls and the development of coronoid eminences on the mandibles of all the pterodactyloids are correlated with the reduction in bite force and a concomitant increase in jaw closing speed.

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