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Palaeontology

Could giant pterosaurs fly ?

By T.K. Randall
May 2, 2009 · Comment icon 23 comments

Image Credit: Mark Witton, Darren Naish
A new study has suggested that giant pterosaurs would not have been able to fly. Due to their size and weight the creatures would have unable to lift off or be able to flap fast enough to stay in the air.
Giant pterosaurs, colossal winged reptiles that lived alongside the dinosaurs, have long been considered the heaviest animals ever to take to the skies. But new research suggests that the notion of giant pterosaurs soaring over Earth simply doesn't fly. "


Source: National Geographic | Comments (23)




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Comment icon #14 Posted by Kopernicus 15 years ago
It's true that oxygen levels in the atmosphere during the Devonian era had a mean of about 75% of current oxygen levels, however the total atmospheric density was much higher - there was approx 700% more (8x) CO2 in the atmosphere than there is today. A higher atmospheric pressure means more oxygen will be available to insects (which take oxygen from the atmosphere through diffusion - atmospheric pressure is critical to this). The pterosaurs did not require oxygen levels to be high to fly, just for the total atmospheric density to be higher. From memory, a figure of 300 - 400% of today's densi... [More]
Comment icon #15 Posted by Leonardo 15 years ago
In your earlier post, you wrote that the large insects achieved their size because of the high "density of oxygen in the atmosphere." In this post, you seem to attribute the high density of carbon dioxide. There seems to be a conradiction. I would like to see some study that could explain how high atmospheric density, regardless of the oxygen %, would enable insects or pterosaurs or any form of life to achieve unusually large size, especially those that could fly. Before we go on to analyze gravitational issues, I think we should concentrate on the oxygen levels/ density explanation first. If ... [More]
Comment icon #16 Posted by Kopernicus 15 years ago
A denser atmosphere means diffusion of oxygen through the spirules of insects is easier, Kopernicus. It also means that the entire atmosphere is denser. The quantity of oxygen in the atmosphere was less, relative to the total amount of atmosphere, but it was at the same density as the rest of the atmosphere. You can compare the situation with scuba-diving where the mix used to dive to depth contains less oxygen as a percentage, but at a higher pressure. The diver still gets the necessary amount of oxygen entering the bloodstream because the pressure in the lungs forces more of the oxygen throu... [More]
Comment icon #17 Posted by Leonardo 15 years ago
Kopernicus, This is a debate. I have provided evidence for my argument, you have provided none for yours, neither have you been able to refute my evidence. I do not feel required to let this debate be entirely one-sided so I would request you provide evidence for your hypothesis of a change in gravity before I continue. You will agree that you do not have to have the atmospheric density hypothesis proved for the gravity hypothesis to be voided, correct? Sorry if that sounds tetchy, but some work on your part would be appreciated. In reply to the questions you asked in your past post however: 1... [More]
Comment icon #18 Posted by Kopernicus 15 years ago
Kopernicus, This is a debate. I have provided evidence for my argument, you have provided none for yours, neither have you been able to refute my evidence. I do not feel required to let this debate be entirely one-sided so I would request you provide evidence for your hypothesis of a change in gravity before I continue. You will agree that you do not have to have the atmospheric density hypothesis proved for the gravity hypothesis to be voided, correct? Sorry if that sounds tetchy, but some work on your part would be appreciated. In reply to the questions you asked in your past post however: 1... [More]
Comment icon #19 Posted by Leonardo 15 years ago
Kopernicus, If the only evidence you have for Earth's gravity being less in the past is your belief that gigantism in ancient organisms couldn't have been possible without it, then it would appear our debate is still-born. There is hard evidence that the Earth's atmosphere was denser in past epochs. Hard evidence that oxygen levels were sometimes higher, and a correlation between the fluctuating oxygen level/high atmospheric density and the advent of gigantism (and pterosaur flight - which is what this debate was originally about). If you have no hard evidence that Earth's gravity was less dur... [More]
Comment icon #20 Posted by Kopernicus 15 years ago
Kopernicus, If the only evidence you have for Earth's gravity being less in the past is your belief that gigantism in ancient organisms couldn't have been possible without it, then it would appear our debate is still-born. There is hard evidence that the Earth's atmosphere was denser in past epochs. Hard evidence that oxygen levels were sometimes higher, and a correlation between the fluctuating oxygen level/high atmospheric density and the advent of gigantism (and pterosaur flight - which is what this debate was originally about). If you have no hard evidence that Earth's gravity was less dur... [More]
Comment icon #21 Posted by Leonardo 15 years ago
Leonardo, there is nothing stillborn here. I provided you with a graph of oxygen levels which refutes your claim of higher oxygen levels during the Mesozoic, the time the pterosaurs existed. This is a more recent view and because it doesn’t support your view, you should be open-minded and reevaluate your position, which is that oxygen /density levels alone can account for all gigantism. You have also failed to provide some reference (i.e., a graph) of atmospheric density levels that might support your view......you are standing on thin air! I will proceed with the basics of the G theory. Are... [More]
Comment icon #22 Posted by Kopernicus 15 years ago
Are you deliberately ignoring what I have stated in earlier posts? The density of the atmosphere in previous epochs means that the oxygen in it was more easily respirated by organisms like insects and amphibians which have a skin/exoskeletal diffusive respiratory system. The chart you provided shows a lower percentage by volume of oxygen in the atmosphere - which in itself means nothing. I haven't 'failed to provide a reference for historical atmospheric density'. As I (again) stated in an earlier post, there does not appear to have been such a study done. However, we know the atmosphere was d... [More]
Comment icon #23 Posted by Leonardo 15 years ago
Leonardo, You claim that no research or study has been done on phanerozoic air density. You are incorrect, have a look at: No, I did not. I stated I could not find such a study - I was not incorrect. You didn't read what I wrote. As for the study you linked to, I believe it is in error as per my explanation in previous posts about the use of relative percentages of the atmospheric gases having no bearing on the absolute density of the atmosphere. In the study you have provided Mr Sugimoto has made the mistake of calculating atmospheric density over time using relative concentrations of gases c... [More]


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