This giraffe-sized reptile was the largest flying creature to ever live | Smart News

Scientists have previously hypothesized that Quetzalcoatlus took off by running and flapping its wings or pushing its wingtips.
James Kuther

Quetzalcoatlus– a member of the ancient group of flying reptiles called pterosaurs – was the largest flying creature to ever live. This giraffe-sized reptile had slender limbs, a terrifying beak and a wingspan of 40 feet.

However Quetzalcoatlus was discovered about 50 years ago, scientists have struggled to piece together the details of this creature’s life, including how it even managed to lift its giant body off the ground to fly, reports Megan Marples for CNN.

A new collection of research published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology offers the most complete information on Quetzalcoatlus Again.

“This ancient flying reptile is legendary, although most public conception of the animal is artistic and not scientific,” said Kevin Padian, a paleontologist at the University of California, Berkeley. Press release. “This is the first real look at the entirety of the largest animal to have ever flown, as far as we know. The results are groundbreaking for the study of pterosaurs, the first animals, after insects, to have evolved in powered flight.”

Part of the reason it took so long to find out Quetzalcoatlus‘ is because, like modern flyers, he had hollow bones that helped him fly.

“You have these kind of potato chip-like bones preserved in a very hard rock, and you have to pull the bones out of the rock without destroying them,” Matthew Brown, a vertebrate paleontologist at the Institute, told CNN. University of Texas at Austin. .

After analyzing their collection of bones excavated from Big Bend National Park in Texas, the team discovered two new species of pterosaurs. One of them was a second, smaller type of Quetzalcoatlus, which had a wingspan reaching 20 feet. They attributed a few hundred bones to the smallest Quetzalcoatlus, leaving only a few dozen bones belonging to the largest. However, the team was able to reconstruct a skeleton for the new species and deduce what the larger one looked like, according to the press release.

Then, with the help of an aerospace engineer and a biomechanist, the team of paleontologists learned how Quetzalcoatlus managed to fly, reports Jordan Mendoza for USA today.

An illustration of the Quetzalcoatlus launch sequence.  It's a black and white drawing of the reptile's bones and how it crouches and lunges upwards.

With the help of an aerospace engineer and a biomechanist, the team of paleontologists were able to discern how the species flew by studying models and applying principles of physics.

Kevin Padian et al / John Conway

Paleontologists have previously presented ideas for how the giant reptile took off, such as running and flapping its wings or dashing on its wings like a vampire bat. The new research suggests the creature crouched down and then launched itself eight feet into the air, giving it enough ground clearance to flap its wings and take off, reports George Dvorsky for Gizmodo.

“(The team) applied a lot of aerospace knowledge to understanding how something like an airfoil works and how much speed you need to generate lift,” Brown said. USA today.

Once the reptiles were airborne, they could fly well. “Pterosaurs have huge sternums, where the flight muscles attach, so there’s no doubt that they were formidable fliers,” Padian said in the press release.

The new studies also offer insight into how Quetzalcoatlus lived. It inhabited an evergreen forest and hunted in water. The larger species behaved like a heron, a long-necked bird that wades through water, Gizmodo Reports.

According to the press release, Quetzalcoatlus hunted by snatching creatures like crabs, clams and worms out of bodies of fresh water using their long beaks. The larger species likely hunted solo, but the smaller species congregated for at least part of the year, as the fossils of more than 30 individuals were found at one site, according to the news release. .

“You have to kind of shift your mindset to think of them as living, breathing animals and not just dead skeletons sitting in a drawer,” Brown said. USA today. “Part of that is looking at modern animals that are alive today that have similar body types.”

Although this is the most comprehensive study on Quetzalcoatlus Still, Brown hopes to find out more by digging up more fossils at Big Bend.

“It would be extremely informative and would really test a lot of our assumptions about what these big animals look like based on the little ones,” he told CNN.

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