The Largest Known Flying Animal Was Even Weirder Than We Thought


The pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus northropi is the most important recognized flying animal to have ever existed, residing on Earth greater than 67 million years in the past. Now new analysis on the creature and its newly found smaller relative, Quetzalcoatlus lawsoni, provides us a greater thought of how Q. northropi flew and acquired airborne to start with.


Our data of Q. northropi relies on lots of of fossils found in modern-day Texas, and its take-off technique has been a matter of some dispute: It has been instructed that it ran to construct up pace like an albatross earlier than flying, or rocked on its wingtips like a bat, or maybe that it did not rise up into the air in any respect.

The new examine means that the pterosaur used a leap of as much as 2.5 meters (just a little over 8 ft) into the air, adopted by flaps of its 11-meter-long (36-foot) wings, to take to the sky. It would have landed like an airplane, slowing up within the air earlier than touching down on terra firma and taking a hop for stability.

“If they may soar twice their hip peak, to eight ft, the wings would be capable to clear the bottom, and so they might execute a deeper flight stroke,” says paleontologist Kevin Padian from the University of California Museum of Paleontology. “This could also be the best choice for taking off, although it relies on adequate energy from the legs.”


“The animal needed to flap its wings to stall and sluggish its descent earlier than it lands with its again ft and takes just a little hop,” Padian explains. “Then it places down its entrance ft, assumes a four-legged posture, straightens itself out, and walks away.”

Evidence for this unconventional touchdown and strolling fashion additionally comes from fossilized tracks beforehand found in France. When on the bottom, the scientists counsel, the creature would have used its ‘chopstick-like’ beak to catch and gulp down fish, invertebrates, and small amphibians from the water, very like a heron does.

Q. northropi used a leap to take off. (James Kuether)

In the air, Q. northropi would have been far more like a condor, hovering within the air and utilizing its comparatively massive head to assist full turns. The researchers assume that the wings have been almost certainly solely connected to the entrance limbs, just like the birds we all know in the present day.

The first correct evaluation of smaller bones discovered on the Texas web site has additionally revealed a smaller, newly recognized species – Q. lawsoni, which appears to have had a wingspan of round 4.5 meters (practically 15 ft). There are vital variations from the bigger pterosaur, together with within the construction of the cranium and the backbone.

“This is the primary time that we now have had any sort of complete examine,” says paleontologist Matthew Brown from the University of Texas at Austin. “Even although Quetzalcoatlus has been recognized for 50 years, it has been poorly recognized.”

The new findings, unfold out over six revealed papers, give us a greater understanding of those prehistoric beasts, and there are doubtless extra species to search out. Further examine also needs to be capable to reply remaining questions on Quetzalcoatlus, together with the form of its wing membrane.

Other subjects coated by the brand new batch of papers give extra perception into the unfold, habitat, and evolutionary household tree of the Quetzalcoatlus species. The newest analysis will doubtless kind the definitive supply of reference for these creatures for a few years to come back.

Having dominated the skies for hundreds of thousands of years, the pterosaurs met the identical dramatic finish as the remainder of the dinosaurs – however by a cautious evaluation of fossils, we will convey them again to life to some extent.

“‘These historical flying reptiles are legendary, though many of the public conception of the animal is creative, not scientific,” says Padian.

“This is the primary actual take a look at the whole thing of the most important animal ever to fly, so far as we all know. The outcomes are revolutionary for the examine of pterosaurs – the primary animals, after bugs, ever to evolve powered flight.”

The analysis has been revealed within the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).