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Gigantic prehistoric birds used natural runways to gain flight

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
November 12th, 2012
Catholic Online (

The giant flying pterosaur called Quetzalcoatlus was by far the largest earthly inhabitant to ever take to the skies and fly. Approximately the size of an F-16 jet, its wingspan was 34 feet wide. Questions arise, however - how was the prehistoric bird, which clouded the skies 67 million years ago, take to the air? None of the expected cliffs enabling the pterosaur to embark were ever found in the areas where its remains were found. Now, scientists may have the answer -

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - According to a new computer simulation, the pterosaur used downward-sloping areas at the edges of lakes and river valleys, as "prehistoric runways." The monstrous birds then gathered enough speed and power to take off.

The study was presented last week at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America. According to Texas Tech University scientist Sankar Chatterjee, a co-author of the study, the animal would start running on all fours, then would shift to its back legs, unfurl its wings and begin flapping.

Once the pterosaur generated enough power and speed, it finally would hop and take to the air, Chatterjee says. Chatterjee, along with his colleagues created a video simulation of a pterosaur taking flight.

\"This would be very awkward-looking,\" he said. \"They\'d have to run but also need a down slope, a technique used today by hang gliders. Once in the air, though, they were magnificent gliders.\"

His past research also revealed the likely flight trick of another hefty prehistoric aviator, Argentavis magnificens, which relied on updrafts to help lift it into the air.

Chatterjee said the flight and landing of Quetzalcoatlus probably looked like that of an albatross or the Kori bustard, the heaviest modern-day bird capable of flight.

The pterosaur likely weighed about 155 pounds, which is near the maximum that an animal could weigh and still fly, he said.

Landing presented a problem for this dinosaur. According to scientists, it involved a lot of flapping, followed by a touchdown with the hind legs, leading to a four-legged run.

From the paleontological evidence found, Quetzalcoatlus had very light, air-filled bones, which were strong for their weight, but its wings were fairly fragile. \"It was a marvel of engineering,\" he said.

These pterosaurs likely fed on fish or scavenged dead animals, like modern-day buzzards. When standing, they were about as tall as modern-day giraffes. They were named after Quetzalcoatl, the Mesoamerican feathered serpent god.

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