Millions of years ago, giraffe-sized reptiles called pterosaurs launched into the air with a leap-frog maneuver, relying on all four limbs, suggests a new study that may solve a longstanding mystery.
Though not closely related to birds, pterosaurs (which means “winged lizards”) likely were capable of powered flight. They are thought to have ruled the skies from more than 200 million years ago until the mass extinction event 65 million years ago that wiped them out along with most dinosaurs and many other plants and animals.
Once airborne, even the largest of these flyers, such as Quetzalcoatlus northropi whose wingspan reached 35 feet (10 m), could stay aloft by flapping their impressive wings.
But how did pterosaurs lift off the ground?
The researcher says his new study reveals the first line of evidence that pterosaurs launched into the air using four limbs: two were ultra-strong wings which, when folded and balanced on a knuckle, served as front “legs” that helped the creature to walk and leap sky-high.
Mark Witton, a paleobiologist at the University of Portsmouth in England, who was not involved in the current study, says the idea is novel but “makes sense.”
“The thought that this whole group of flying animals was taking off with their forelimbs is pretty novel,” Witton said during a telephone interview, adding “I think an awful lot of pterosaur researchers will probably take this quite seriously. It’s still ‘early days,’ but it’s a worthy idea for future consideration.” …
I wouldn’t want to be anywhere close when one of these giant winged things launched into the air.