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Quetzalcoatlus northropi of the Cretaceous period, a pterosaur with a wingspan of some 33 feet that stood as tall as a giraffe. Like Quetzalcoatl, it was a feathered (well, sort of — more on that later) reptile, though Quetzalcoatlus had the body of a bat and the head and neck of a stork, except instead of delivering babies it delivered death. Which in a way makes it the exact opposite of a stork.
Quetz’s similarly-sized cousin Arambourgiania philadelphiae with a giraffe at left and some sort of hominid at right. Illustration: Mark Witton
But with nowhere near a complete skeleton to work with, scientists are still trying to piece together exactly how Quetz looked and behaved. How exactly could a 16-foot-tall creature even get airborne? Why wouldn’t it just fall out of the sky?
Quetz was part of a family known as the giant azhdarchid pterosaurs, which include the similarly sized Arambourgiania philadelphiae, shown at right. When in flight, their enormity would have prohibited them from vigorous flapping, so instead these were likely highly proficient gliders, according to Mark Witton, a paleontologist, paleoartist, and author of the book Pterosaurs.
He thinks Quetz would have been capable of covering some 10,000 miles nonstop — which is like flying from London to Albuquerque and back, or, if you prefer even bigger numbers, making 58,823.53 round trips from my apartment to nearest corner store — riding rising columns of hot air called thermals and hitting speeds of 80 mph. Quetz may have been able to stay aloft for more than a week, only intermittently flapping its enormous membranous wings, which were supported, believe it or not, by an extremely elongated finger (alas, not that finger).
Yet even given its aerial prowess, Quetz was likely not only highly comfortable on terra firma, but was also a formidable land predator. “Their legs are long, their extremities compact and padded, and their trackways reveal proficient walking abilities,” Witton said in an email interview with WIRED. “We figure that these attributes point to a lifestyle of ‘terrestrial stalking,’ where relatively small animals and nutritious plant matter were procured on the ground, a bit like the way that many storks and ground hornbills live today.”
Those highly elongated vertebrae hide yet another remarkable feature of Quetz: Like modern birds, it had hollow bones linked to what was likely a very efficient respiratory system. “This means the skeleton is inflated by air sacs like a set of bony balloons, growing in proportion without gaining a lot of additional weight,” said Witton. “This has obvious advantages for a flying animal, permitting the development of a very large and strong skeleton which is also very lightweight for its size.”
“Mike and Jim were aware that there’s more than one way for a vertebrate animal to take off,” Witton said. “Some launch using their legs alone (birds), while others take off using all four limbs, with the arms generating most of the vertical thrust during takeoff (several bat species). The latter is actually a lot stronger than a hind-limb launch, as the biggest set of muscles in the body — the flight muscles — are directly employed in generating the necessary thrust to remain airborne.”
riding rising columns of hot air called thermals and hitting speeds of 80 mph. Quetz may have been able to stay aloft for more than a week, only intermittently flapping its enormous membranous wings, which were supported, believe it or not, by an extremely elongated finger
the skeleton is inflated by air sacs like a set of bony balloons, growing in proportion without gaining a lot of additional weight,”
Raising Giant Insects to Unravel Ancient Oxygen
"The dragonflies were the most challenging of the insects to raise," said VandenBrooks because, among other things, there is no such thing as dragonfly chow. As juveniles they need to hunt live prey and in fact undergraduate students Elyse Muñoz and Michael Weed working with Dr. VandenBrooks had to resort to hand feeding the dragonflies daily.
"Dragonflies are notoriously difficult to rear," said VandenBrooks. "We are one of the only groups to successfully rear them to adulthood under laboratory conditions."
Once they had worked that out, however, they raised three sets of 75 dragonflies in atmospheres containing 12 percent (the lowest oxygen has been in the past), 21 percent (like modern Earth's atmosphere) and 31 percent oxygen (the highest oxygen has been).
As oxygen levels increased on a lush tropical earth, the animals got larger.
I would say there is a huge difference in a bat "leaping" to gain flight and a 550 lb flying reptile as big as a giraffe. How high would it have to jump to comfortably unfurl a 33 ft wing span and gain altitude at that weight and size?
I suppose i could see a running start if they were as skilled at walking as this article claims,
Finally, even at the size of a giraffe the Quetz was not really a big predator as i would call it. It would be easy lunch for a t-rex and despite its size and flight capabilities i believe a strong pack of raptors would make a quick meal of this thing (To name two common dino's from this era)
I say if they do not have a complete skeleton to work with then we are still missing an essential element to answer this question.