Now comes what is believed to be first-time evidence that launching some 500 pounds of reptilian heft into flight required pterosaurs to use 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.
Illustration by Mark Witton.
A modern-day man and giraffe, drawn to scale, flank the extinct pterosaur known as Hatzegotpteryx. Unlike birds, pterosaurs used four legs to launch themselves into flight, according to new research.
Publishing in Zitteliana, Michael B. Habib, M.S., of the Center for Functional Anatomy and Evolution at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, reports his comparison of bone strength in the limbs of pterosaurs to that of birds and concludes that pterosaurs had much stronger “arms” than legs. The reverse is true of birds.
“We’ve all seen birds take off, so that’s what’s most familiar,” says Habib. “But with pterosaurs, extinct 65 million years and with a fossil history that goes back 250 million years, what’s familiar isn’t relevant.”
A supersized glitch is inherent in the traditional bipedal launch model, Habib notes: “If a creature takes off like a bird, it should only be able to get as big as the biggest bird.”
Birds use legs to launch, wings to flap. They don’t get launch power from wings or flight power from legs. In fact, when a bird is aloft, its legs become payload, or cargo. The muscle on the two back limbs that provides the power to launch must be carried and therefore limits size. Released of that handicap by employing all four legs to launch, giant pterosaurs could fly despite the fact that they were roughly the same size and shape as modern-day giraffes.
“The difference between pterosaurs and birds with regard to critical mechanical properties is very, very large,” Habib says, especially when you’re talking about the big pterosaurs; as the size gets bigger, the difference gets bigger too.”
For example, the wings of these fantastic hairy reptiles, most notably those of Quetzalcoatlus northropi, which spanned to an impressive 35 feet when the creatures were aloft, propelled the creatures into the air during take-offs that Habib describes as leap-frogging long-jumps: “Pterosaurs had long, huge front limbs, so no partner was required. Then, with wings snapping out, off they’d fly.”
Using computer scans to obtain cross-sectional images and geometric data for 155 bird specimens representing 20 species, Habib calculated the strengths of bones in bird limbs and compared these to three species of pterosaurs, the bones strengths of which he calculated using measurements from previously published sources. Structural strength, taking into account length and diameter, among other things, is a measure of how much force a bone can take before it fractures.
Habib also spent time crunching the numbers using the old, bipedal launch model and simply couldn’t find a mathematical solution that would enable the largest of the pterosaurs — using hind legs alone — to launch at all.
“But using all four legs, it takes less than a second to get off of flat ground, no wind, no cliffs,” he said. “This was a good thing to be able to do if you lived in the late Cretaceous period and there were hungry tyrannosaurs wandering around.”
It stands to reason that a large-bodied animal needing to produce lots of power at take-off would use four legs instead of two, Habib says: “We put V8 engines in our biggest, heaviest cars, not V-4s, like the one in my Camry.”
Assumption and convention — rather than reason or data — held sway for centuries, ever since the classical bipedal model of pterosaur take-off was first championed, he notes.
The research was funded by the Jurassic Foundation. Habib, of Johns Hopkins, is the sole author of the paper.
Maryalice Yakutchik | Newswise Science News
The irresistible fragrance of dying vinegar flies
16.08.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für chemische Ökologie
How protein islands form
15.08.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
Researchers from the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, the Italian Space Agency (ASI), and the Instituto Geofisico--Escuela Politecnica Nacional (IGEPN) of Ecuador, showed an increasing volcanic danger on Cotopaxi in Ecuador using a powerful technique known as Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR).
The Andes region in which Cotopaxi volcano is located is known to contain some of the world's most serious volcanic hazard. A mid- to large-size eruption has...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
16.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
16.08.2017 | Materials Sciences
16.08.2017 | Interdisciplinary Research