Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Ancient Flying Pterosaur Also Sailed Seas

21.10.2009
At first glance, the 115-million-year-old pterosaur looks like a Cretaceous design disaster. With a tail rudder on its head and a spindly, bat-like body, Tapejara wellnhoferi may appear fit for nothing but extinction.

However, researchers at Texas Tech University, the University of Kansas and University of Florida have found that the animal’s strange body actually made it a mastery of nature’s drawing boards. Not only could it walk and fly, but also it could sail across the sea.

Tapejara, a native coastal dweller of what is now Brazil, was an excellent flyer that also had an innate nautical knowledge of sailing, said Sankar Chatterjee, Horn Professor of Geosciences and curator of paleontology at the Museum of Texas Tech University.

Much like a Transformer, it could manipulate its body to match the same configuration as the world’s fastest modern windsurfers and sail across the surface of the ocean in search of prey. Then, it could take off quickly if the toothy underwater predators of its time got too close for comfort.

“The free ride from the wind would allow these animals to cover a large territory in search of food,” Chatterjee said. “Apparently, these pterosaurs knew the secrets of sailing that many novice sailors do not.”

Chatterjee and his research team determined Tapejara’s sailing ability by studying the aero-hydrodynamics of pterosaur wings through physics and computer simulation. He will present his findings Oct. 21 at the Geological Society of America’s annual meeting in Portland, Ore.

His research team included David Alexander, an animal flight expert from the University of Kansas, aeronautical engineer Rick Lind from the University of Florida and technician Andy Gedeon from Texas Tech.

The basic design of Tapejara is a cross between two types of sailing vessels, Chatterjee said. The “hull” of the pterosaur is formed by dipping the breast bone into the water. The two hind legs directed backward functioned like lateral hulls. This design allowed the animal to skate on top of the water on triple surfboards just like the Wiebel – the world’s fastest trimaran windsurfer. This hull design minimizes contact with water, offers stability and enhances speed.

Rather than depend on a tailwind for propulsion, which doesn’t maximize speed, the animal probably opted to use a two-mast-and-jib design.

The long, narrow wings of Tapejara and the tall cranial rudder mimicked those of a two-masted schooner with a jib, he said. The animal probably lifted its wings up vertically to act like sails during surface swimming. Rod-like structures called actinofibrils served as sail battens, giving stiffness to the wing skin so it wouldn’t tear from the breeze. The cranial rudder functioned as a sailboat’s jib and helped with direction control.

“In downwind sailing, the wings act like parachutes, and the air is decelerated,” Chatterjee said. “Most likely, Tapejara would orient the wings in a fore-and-aft position like that of a sailing boat to exploit upwind sailing. The tilted cranial sail would create a slot effect like a sailboat, which produces a greater lift by improving airflow over the main sails. With the wind coming from ahead and to the side at about a 45-degree angle to the body, Tapejara could achieve speeds exceeding the wind speed. The fastest way to sail is with the wind coming from the side.”

Pterosaurs were highly successful flying reptiles that lived 228 to 65 million years ago from the late Triassic Period to the end of the Cretaceous Period. They dominated the sky, swooping over the heads of other dinosaurs. Their sizes ranged from a sparrow to a Cessna plane with a wingspan of 35 feet, he said.

This isn’t the first time Chatterjee and Lind have studied the animal. Last October, they announced they are developing a 30-inch robotic spy plane called pterodrone and modeled after Tapejara.

The drone, featuring the same strange design of a rudder at the nose of the craft instead of the tail, can gather data from sights, sounds and smells in urban combat zones and transmit information back to a command center.

Also, this is the second animal Chatterjee has studied that beat mankind to the punch with a design. In 2006, his research found that a 125-million-year-old feathered dinosaur from China named Microraptor gui glided through the air with winglets on its feet that worked just like the wings of a bi-plane.

CONTACT: Sankar Chatterjee, curator of paleontology at the Museum of Texas Tech, (806) 787-4332, or sankar.chatterjee@ttu.edu.

John Davis | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.ttu.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Predicting unpredictability: Information theory offers new way to read ice cores
07.12.2016 | Santa Fe Institute

nachricht Sea ice hit record lows in November
07.12.2016 | University of Colorado at Boulder

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Electron highway inside crystal

Physicists of the University of Würzburg have made an astonishing discovery in a specific type of topological insulators. The effect is due to the structure of the materials used. The researchers have now published their work in the journal Science.

Topological insulators are currently the hot topic in physics according to the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Only a few weeks ago, their importance was...

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Researchers identify potentially druggable mutant p53 proteins that promote cancer growth

09.12.2016 | Life Sciences

Scientists produce a new roadmap for guiding development & conservation in the Amazon

09.12.2016 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

Satellites, airport visibility readings shed light on troops' exposure to air pollution

09.12.2016 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>