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Four, three, two, one . . . pterosaurs have lift off
Date:1/6/2009

lking 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.


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Contact: Maryalice Yakutchik
myakutc1@jhmi.edu
443-287-2251
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
Source:Eurekalert

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