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The Largest Known Flying Animal Was Even Weirder Than We Thought


Pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus northropi it is the largest flying animal that ever existed, living on Earth more than 67 million years ago. Now new research into the creature and its newly discovered smaller relative, Quetzalcoatlus lawsonigives us a better idea of ​​how Q. northropi flew and took off.

Our knowledge of Q. northropi based on hundreds of fossils found in modern-day Texas, and its method of takeoff has been the subject of some controversy: it has been suggested that it ran picking up speed like an albatross before flying, or swinging at the tips of its wings like a bat, or maybe not at all. rose into the air.

The new study suggests that the pterosaur jumped 2.5 meters (just over 8 feet) into the air and then flapped its 11 meters (36 feet) wings to take to the sky. He would land like an airplane, slow down in the air before landing on hard ground and try to jump for stability.

“If they could jump twice the height of the hip, eight feet, the wings could lift off the ground and they could fly deeper,” says paleontologist Kevin Padian of the University of California Museum of Paleontology. “It may be the best option for takeoff, although it depends on sufficient power from the legs.”

“The animal had to flap its wings to stop and slow the descent before it landed with its hind legs and made a small jump,” explains Padian. “Then he lowers his front paws, assumes a four-legged pose, straightens up and walks away.”

Evidence for this unconventional landing and walking style also comes from fossil footprints previously found in France. Scientists speculate that while on the ground, the creature could use its chopstick-like beak to catch and swallow fish, invertebrates, and small amphibians from the water, just like a heron does.

Q. northropi used the jump to take off. (James Kuther)

In the air, Q. northropi would be more like a condor floating in the air and using its relatively large head to make turns. The researchers believe that the wings were most likely attached only to the forelimbs, like in modern birds.

The first proper analysis of smaller bones found in the Texas area also revealed recently identified smaller species – Q. lawsoniwhich appeared to have a wingspan of about 4.5 meters (almost 15 feet). There are significant differences from the larger pterosaur, including in the structure of the skull and spine.

“This is the first time we’re doing comprehensive research,” says paleontologist Matthew Brown of the University of Texas at Austin. “Despite Quetzalcoatlus has been known for 50 years, but little known. “

The new findings, scattered across six published articles, give us a better understanding of these prehistoric beasts, and there are probably still other species to be found. Further research should also answer the remaining questions about Quetzalcoatlusincluding the shape of its wing membrane.

Other topics covered in the new batch of articles provide more information on distribution, habitat, and evolutionary family tree. Quetzalcoatlus variety. The latest research is likely to be a comprehensive reference for these creatures for many years to come.

The pterosaurs that have ruled the skies for millions of years have met the same dramatic end as the rest of the dinosaurs, but through careful analysis of the fossils, we can bring them back to life to some extent.

“These ancient flying reptiles are legendary, although public opinion is artistic, not scientific,” says Padian.

“As far as we know, this is the first real look at the largest animal ever to fly in the world. The results are revolutionary for the study of pterosaurs, the first animals after insects to ever develop mechanical flight. ”

Research published in Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).





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