A new analysis of the largest of pterodactyls suggests they were too big and their muscles too weak to vault into the air and fly. Instead, they were right at the upper limit of animal flight and needed a hill or stiff breeze so they could soar like hang gliders.
The new analysis was done on the enormous pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus from Late Cretaceous rocks of Big Bend, Texas. Quetzalcoatlus had a wingspan of about 35 feet (10.6 meters), or about the wingspan of a F-16 fighter. It was among the last pterodactyls to look down on dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
It seems that this isn't quite true and we have yet another example of bad science journalism on our hands:
Chatterjee et al.’s abstract and press release do not explain why the many arguments supporting pterosaur quad launch (see here andhere, for a start) are problematic or why arguments and methodologies to estimate relatively high masses for pterosaurs (here) are incorrect. Instead, they’ve decided that such scientific rigour doesn’t matter, and gone straight into informing the public that giant pterosaurs took flight in the way described in their presentation, and that all other opinions on the matter are wrong.
By bigging up their abstract rather than a peer-reviewed publication in which their methodological details and discussion are explained in detail, Chatterjee et al. have given the impression that their work is more scientifically credible than it actually is. Science journalists have lapped the release up, presumably because giant pterosaurs are cool, but they have not mentioned the lack of a detailed peer-reviewed study behind the findings, nor (in the majority of cases) bothered to find out what other palaeontologists make of the story. This is not the first time this sort of outreach has happened. The proceedings of other conferences and un-reviewed articles have given us infamous press stories such as the ‘Triassic kraken’,vampire pterosaurs, and the suggestion that all dinosaurs were aquatic. And these are just examples from recent memory. Chatterjee et al.’s abstract and press release do not explain why the many arguments supporting pterosaur quad launch (see here and here, for a start) are problematic or why arguments and methodologies to estimate relatively high masses for pterosaurs (here) are incorrect. Instead, they’ve decided that such scientific rigour doesn’t matter, and gone straight into informing the public that giant pterosaurs took flight in the way described in their presentation, and that all other opinions on the matter are wrong.
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Posted 11 November 2012 - 08:01 PM
So what if the pterosaur was too big to launch off the ground? Obviously the bones are there, so the creature existed, and must have thrived in at least part of its environment. Maybe they only landed on cliffs or sequoia trees?
Anyway, I think their point would not matter if it was true.
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little_dreamer, on 11 November 2012 - 04:18 PM, said:
There are flightless birds with wings, why not dinosaurs?
While it is true that most flightless birds have wings, it is also true that they are usually reduced to the point of being useless for flight. Having large wings and being earthbound would make it an easy target for predation. It would seem very unlikely a animal like the largest of the Pterosaurs would be flightless given the size of their wings. An ostrich does not have the proportional wings of say a crow, instead they have been reduced and used mostly for courtship in male Ostriches. I think the question here is whether there is sufficient wing area, lightness of overall body mass, strength of muscle and or bone to allow for flight, and if so how such an animal can become airborne.
Also Pterosaurs were flying reptiles but not dinosaurs, but lived at the same time as some of the dinosaurs.
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I agree with Garnetill and DieChecker. Only because they simply haven't been able (yet) to understand how it flew, it doesn't mean that it didn't.
And let's be serious: they don't know anything about this creature.
They found its bones, they reconstructed the skeleton based on their models (because they're not puzzles, with every piece fitting perfectly in the right place; it goes on interpretation), but they can't be sure how it looked like for real!
And the most important thing is that they don't know how were the soft tissue.
I guess (but I'm not sure) that they studied the tendon's attachments on the bones, in order to determine that its muscles weren't strong enough to let it fly.
Problem is, they really don't know the muscular structure of this animal: maybe it had extremely powerfull chest muscles and maybe it was feathered, and this would have helped in flying.
As far as we know it could have used his wings for swimming and not for flying, and maybe it lived like today hippos or crocodiles.
That's the real deal with dinos: we don't know absolutely anything for sure about them, but we think to know everything.
Once on tv I've seen an american show, where were explained the mating rituals of some dinosaurs. The mating rituals! And they're paid for this? Do they really consider themself scientists? Here's the real sci-fi!
Still, it must have been an amazing creature! I would love to have witnessed it dropping off a cliff to ride the air!
That would have been impressive... But I wonder how it got back up to the cliff top to re-launch.... It couldn't have been very agile - or fast, lugging around all that excess wing area... Watch how bats walk on the ground - not very fast at all... Very vunerable...