Friday, November 9, 2012

Pterosaur Launch

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It's a bird … It's a plane … It's a plane-size bird! If humans had lived 67 million years ago in what is now Texas, they would've had a hard time missing the giant flying pterosaur calledQuetzalcoatlus, which was the size of an F-16 fighter jet.  The biggest animal ever to fly in the history of the world, this pterosaur dominated the sky with its 34-foot (10 meters) wingspan.
Fossils of the creature have been found in Big Bend National Park, in an area that was heavily forested in the late Cretaceous.   But this presents a puzzle: How did it fly? The region lacked the cliffs that make flight for such large birds easy to conceive.  
A new computer simulation has the answer: These beasts used downward-sloping areas, at the edges of lakes and river valleys, as prehistoric runways to gather enough speed and power to take off, according to a study presented Wednesday (Nov. 7) here at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America.
First the animal would start running on all fours, Texas Tech University scientist Sankar Chatterjee, a co-author of the study, told LiveScience. Then it would shift to its back legs, unfurl its wings and begin flapping. Once it generated enough power and speed, it finally would hop and take to the air, said Chatterjee, who along with his colleagues created avideo simulation of this pterosaur taking flight.
Chatterjee said the flight and landing of Quetzalcoatlus probably looked like that of an albatross or the Kori bustard, the heaviest modern-day bird capable of flight.[Avian Ancestors: Dinosaurs That Learned to Fly]

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