Giant Pterosaur Could Pole-Vault into the Air and Fly Thousands of Miles

(Image: Witton MP, Naish D, cc-3.0)

As beautiful and majestic as the natural world is, there’s definitely something to be said about not living in the age of dinosaurs.  Can you imagine going about your daily routine with these prehistoric monsters gliding above the urban landscape?  Until recently, theories held that giant pterosaurs were too big and heavy to get off the ground, but two scientists may now have cracked the mystery of how the massive reptiles were able to launch themselves into the air and fly for thousands of miles across continents.

(Images: Witton MP, Naish D, cc-3.0; H. Zell, cc-SA-3.0)

Palaeontologists Dr Mark Witton from the University of Portsmouth, UK and Dr Michael Habib from Chatham University in Pittsburgh, United States, suggest the giraffe-sized reptiles achieved flight by using the powerful muscles of their legs and arms to push off from the ground, effectively pole-vaulting over their wings, unlike most birds which take off by running and jumping while flapping their wings wildly.

(Images: Ghedoghedo, cc-sa-3.0; Piotrus, cc-sa.3.0)

Scientists have puzzled over the mystery of pterosaur flight for decades, and recent proposals suggested the massive reptiles simply remained on the ground.  Part of the problem, it seems, has been comparing their launch abilities to birds, which have a completely different anatomical structure.  Speaking to the Telegraph, Dr Witton said the bird analogy can be stretched too far when examining pterosaurs.

(Image: Arthur Weasley, cc-3.0)

“These creatures were not birds, they were flying reptiles with a distinctly different skeletal structure, wing proportions and muscle mass”, he said.  “They would have achieved flight in a completely different way to birds and would have had a lower angle of take off and initial flight trajectory.  The anatomy of these creatures is unique.”

(Image: Matt Martyniuk, cc-3.0)

Using fossilised remains, Drs Witton and Habib argued that giant pterosaurs were most likely around five metres tall with a 10 meter wingspan and up to 50kg of forelimb muscle, accounting for 20% of the reptile’s total mass and providing tremendous power and lift.

(Image: ДиБгд, public domain)

They concluded that not only could pterosaurs fly, they were also extremely good at it, remaining on the wing for long periods of time and crossing continents with ease.  It’s a fascinating revelation in the latest chapter of this prehistoric flying reptile, which died out 65 million years ago along with the dinosaur.

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