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What were pterosaurs?

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What were pterosaurs? Various reptiles have developed the ability to glide, but the pterosaurs were the only ones to develop true flight. The arms of a pterosaur were quite short, and its entire Wing was supported by an enormously long fourth finger, leaving the other fingers free to function as a hand.

A thin, skin-like membrane was stretched from the elongated finger to the sides of the body, and sometimes to the hind legs.
The whole body of the pterosaur was extremely light, with hollow bones. ln several forms the head was larger than the entire body.

Some pterosaurs had tails, while others were tail-less. Some fossils even show signs of hair covering the body. Many pterosaurs lived a similar life to the modern seagull and the albatross.

How big were pterosaurs?

As with most other extin ct animals, new discoveries about pterosaurs are constantly being made. The size of pterosaurs that have been discovered has increased enormously in recent years. One of these, Quetzalcoatlus, had a wing span greater than 15 m, which is larger than that of many light planes. Its body was about the size of a human's, but much lighter.

Palaeontologists have difficulty in understanding the diet of Quetzalcoatlus. This pterosaur has been found in inland fossil deposits, so it would not have been a fish-eater. Some people think that it may have been a scavenger, like a vulture. However, it is difficult to imagine such an enormous and awkward creature scrabbling around on a carcass on the ground.

What did pterosaurs feed on?

All pterosaurs were carnivorous, and most are thought to have fed on fish because of their long pointed teeth. As the pterosaur swooped low over the water it would have snatched fish from the water's surface. Some toothless pterosaurs may have had a pouch in which small fish could be trapped, like that of the modern pelican.
One extraordinary form called Pterodaustro had a long upturned curved beak filled with hundreds of fine bristles. These were probably used to sieve tiny shrimps from the water, like the beak of the modern flamingo.

Scientists were astounded when the remains of Quetzalcoatlus were found. It proved to be the largest flying creature ever to have existed, with a wing span greater than many modern light aircraft.

How did pterosaurs get around on the ground?

The experts are unable to agree about how pterosaurs moved about on the ground. We know for certain that their huge wings could not be folded away as neatly as those of a modern bird, and they would have been very ungainly on the ground. Most palaeontologists think that pterosaurs scuttled around on their hands and on the feet of their hind legs, with their wings folded and trailing behind them. A different view is that some pterosaurs may have scuttled about upright, running on their hind legs.

How did pterosaurs fly?

Scientists used to think that pterosaurs were unable to flap their wings and fly like a bird. Instead they probably launched themselves off cliffs and glided on upward currents of air. More recently it has been suggested that pterosaurs were actually very efficient flyers. Some of the smallest types would not have been effective gliders and must have fluttered their wings like modern birds. This would not have been possible for the giants, which must have been pure gliders.

Rhamporhyncus was a moderate sized pterosaur with a 1.75 m wing span. Its long tail was tipped with an unusual diamond-shaped piece of skin which may have helped stabilize it in flight.

Did pterosaurs have feathers?

Pterosaurs did not have feathers, because their large wings were more like those of a bat than a bird. However, pterosaurs did have fur! Fossils have shown that the body of many types was densely covered with hair, and even the wings were lightly furred. This seems to suggest that pterosaurs were warm-blooded, as there would be no point in the body of a cold-blooded creature, such as a modern reptile, being insulated.

Did pterosaurs evolve into birds?

Despite their apparent similarities, pterosaurs were quite different in structure to birds, and they never developed the powerful breast muscles needed to beat their wings in the same way as birds. Similarly, they could not fold their wings away like modern birds, so would always have been clumsy when moving on the ground.

Pteranodon was a large and efficient flyer. Its head l carried a huge backward- pointing crest of uncertain function, though it might have been used as a rudder during gliding flight.

Tags: dinosaur, reptiles, flight

Category: Education  - ( Education Archive)

Date Added: 19 December '11

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