Longchengpterus zhaoi was found in the Lower Cretaceous Jiufotang Formation of Liaoning, China and named by paleontologists Wang Li, Li Li, Duan Ye, and Cheng Shao-li in 2006. Longchengpterus is named for Longcheng, an ancient name for the nearby city of Chaoyang, as well as paleontologist Zhou Dayu.
It’s known from a single, partial skeleton made up of most of the skull, a few neck vertebrae, both shoulders, most of the left wing and part of the right, as well as one femur. The skull is very long and tapering, about 26 cm (10 inches) long. The tips of the jaws come nearly to a point, but are rounded at the end, superficially looking like forceps. Teeth are found in the distal one-third of the upper and lower jaws. The teeth are small, slightly curved, and have constricted bases. The preserved wing skeleton shows that its wingspan would be just about 2 meters (6.5 feet).
The teeth of Longchengpterus indicate that it was a carnivore, but unlike most pterosaurs, it probably didn’t consume much fish. Instead, Longchengpterus and its closest kin may have been scavengers, using their long snouts to probe carcasses, and their small interlocking teeth at the tips of the jaw to clamp down on meat and pry it free. When Longchengpterus was alive, about 120 million years ago, it lived in a temperate forested environment with many rivers, lakes, and swamps. This environment was full of dinosaurs, which may have provided the majority of its diet.
When first named, Wang and colleagues considered Longchengopterus to be an istiodactylid, a small family of pterosaurs known from Lower Cretaceous rocks in the Northern Hemisphere. All known istiodactylids have long, tapering skulls with jaws bearing small teeth at the tips, similar to Longchengpterus. In 2008 Junchang Lü, Li Xu, and Qiang Ji argued that Longchengpterus is not a unique animal, but was actually a specimen of Nurhachius ignaciobritoi, another istiodactylid known from the same formation. More recently, Mark Witton noted that although Longchengpterus and Nurhachius are similar, there are real differences between the specimens and are probably different species after all. Istiodactylids are part of a large lineage of pterosaurs known as ornithocheiroids, which also includes toothed ornithocheirids, anhanguerids, and boreopterids, and the toothless pteranodontids, and nyctosaurids. Most ornithocheiroids were marine fishers, quite unlike the terrestrial scavenging lifestyle proposed for istiodactylids.