Tech UPTechnologyJurassic World Dominion: this was the largest flying dinosaur

Jurassic World Dominion: this was the largest flying dinosaur

 

A vibrating sound is accompanied by a roar as if an aircraft engine is approaching. It’s just the mode of transportation that Owen Grady thinks (rather wishes) is approaching the plane in which he’s a passenger with Kayla Watts and Claire Dearing. Moments later, powerful claws rip the forward cabin to shreds. The largest bird that has flown over our planet is attacking the protagonists of ” Jurassic World: Dominion ” in full flight.

This scene can be seen in the trailer for the new movie in the “Jurassic Park” saga. In it appears one of the most impressive living beings in the history of our planet: a flying bug the size of a plane.

a god in the sky

The first fossils of this animal were found by Douglas Lawson when he was barely over twenty years old and studying geology at the University of Texas. They appeared in the 1970s in Big Bend National Park in Texas. Lawson found remnants of a wing that, given its dimensions, implied that the species would far exceed the size of the largest birds known to date. In fact, the bones pointed to wings with a proportion comparable to those of some airplanes .

Due to its majesty, the species was named in honor of Quetzalcoatl , the “feathered serpent”. But, unlike the Mexica god, it seems that this flying monster did not have feathers, but instead would have its entire body covered with hair.

Although it lived 70 million years ago, in the age of the dinosaurs, Quetzalcoatlus is not exactly a dinosaur , but rather a pterosaur , a flying reptile of the archosaur family. But what a flying reptile.

a giant flyer

It could exceed 4 meters in height , like a current giraffe; When unfolding its wings, it reached a wingspan of 12 or 13 meters , that is, it exceeded the length of a standard bus, and weighed more than 200 kilos . With a neck of 2 meters and a huge beak crowned by a crest of more than a meter, it seems that we are describing a mutant stork capable of facing the Hulk.

The largest birds today are the condor of the Andes and the albatross, whose dimensions are quite far from the giant Quetzalcoatlus. For this reason, scientists have had problems determining its real appearance, behavior and ways of moving , since its enormous size raises many questions: how did it walk with wings that reached the ground when folded? how did the flight start? How did he hunt with that oversized beak?

However, there are studies that put their efforts into describing the morphology of this species, typical of legendary monsters of science fiction. Thus, in recent years, different authors have been publishing the results of their research with the aim of providing Quetzalcoatlus with a real morphology , beyond the conception that prevails in the imagination of the general public.

“This is the first real look at the entirety of the largest animal that has ever flown, as far as we know. The results are revolutionary for the study of pterosaurs, the first animals after insects to evolve powered flight.”

This is how Kevin Padian , emeritus professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of one of the studies that have described the functional morphology of Quetzalcoatlus , sees it.

It walked with difficulty, but it flew like no other animal

The reconstruction of its skeleton following the fossil remains found, allows us to see an animal with little ease to walk on the surface . It walked on its hind legs, but its huge front limbs rested on the ground once it folded its wings. It did not have the ability of some bats to move forward on all fours, but would lift one wing to take a step with the leg on the same side, repeating the movement with opposite limbs, in a clumsy walk. Which would fit with the pterosaur tracks discovered in the south of France at the end of the 20th century.

Paleontologists describe behavior similar to that of a heron to hunt with its beak. And, regarding its flight, it was previously thought that Quetzalcoatlus needed a minimum run on the ground to gain height, like airplanes. But the new descriptions speak of a spot-on takeoff , making use of its powerful hind legs and steady wingbeats. That is why the species shows highly developed pectorals, since they had to send enough force to enormous wings.

In the absence of a more up-to-date review, there are studies that defend a flight capacity in this species of up to 88 kilometers per hour , being able to travel very long distances without stopping. Researchers estimate a journey of 16,000 kilometers in a single flight , which would mean flying over practically half of planet Earth. A bestiality at the height of this flying giant.

Referencias:

Kellner, A. et all. 2010. Cranial remains of Quetzalcoatlus (Pterosauria, Azhdarchidae) from Late Cretaceous sediments of Big Bend National Park, Texas. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 16, 2, 222-231. DOI: 10.1080/02724634.1996.10011310.

Padian, K. et all. 2021. Functional morphology of Quetzalcoatlus Lawson 1975 (Pterodactyloidea: Azhdarchoidea). Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 41, sup1, 218-251. DOI: 10.1080/02724634.2020.1780247.

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