An ancient reptile the height of a modern giraffe may have had the flight capability to soar up to 10,000 miles non-stop.
Biochemist Michael Habib of Chatham University in Pittsburgh named this discovery the Supergiant Pterosaurs in an October 10 presentation at the annual meeting of the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology.
These “gruesomely huge” fliers – with a membrane wingspan of nearly 10 metres – has appeared in 70 million year old fossil records, including four species of flying reptile such as Quetzalcoatlus northropi from Texas. It is estimated that if they could utilize thermals and glide like birds, these reptiles might have been “the longest single-trip-distance fliers in Earth’s history”. The discovery may also quash the notion that fossils found on separate continents are from different species.
Although some skepticism is expected, Habib is confident that all factors – such as body mass, capacity for food (roughly 72kg for a 200kg Pterosaur), wing shape (roughly that of a modern eagles’) which skirts the balance between a long, narrow, albatross-like shape for gliding and a wide wing for power, lead the researcher to the conclusion that these reptiles could fly 10,000 miles without landing.
Given these new calculations, other researchers like David Unwin – a Pterosaur researcher at the University of Leicester – have been led to admit the possibility of such migration and flight capability in these creatures.
Other variables factored into the calculation include warmer Cretaceous-period temperatures that gave the Pterosaurs more thermals to ride – although conservative estimates have concluded they could also fly in a modern atmosphere – as well as the assumption these reptiles would soar between brief bursts of flapping to keep them aloft, and a metabolic rate assumed to be 85 percent of that of a modern bird.
Image courtesy of Zoer