Jet-Size Pterosaurs Took Off from Prehistoric Runways

It’s a bird … It’s a plane … It’s a plane-size bird! If humans had lived 67 million years ago in what is now Texas, they would’ve had a hard time missing the giant flying pterosaur called Quetzalcoatlus, which was the size of an F-16 fighter jet. The biggest animal ever to fly in the history of the world, this pterosaur dominated the sky with its 34-foot (10 meters) wingspan.

Pterosaurs ranged in size from Quetzalcoatlus, which was as tall as a giraffe, to Anurognathus, an insect-eater the size of a small bird seen to the left of Quetzalcoatlus.

Fossils of the creature have been found in Big Bend National Park, in an area that was heavily forested in the late Cretaceous. But this presents a puzzle: How did it fly? The region lacked the cliffs that make flight for such large birds easy to conceive.

A new computer simulation has the answer: These beasts used downward-sloping areas, at the edges of lakes and river valleys, as prehistoric runways to gather enough speed and power to take off, according to a study presented Wednesday (Nov. 7) here at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America.

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