Dec 9, 2021 - News

Researchers: Texas pterosaur leapt before flying

An artist’s interpretation of a new species of Quetzalcoatlus.
An artist's interpretation of Quetzalcoatlus. Credit: John Conway

If you jumped in a time machine and headed back 70 million years to what is now the Big Bend region of Texas, you might have been terrified to see a pterosaur with a 40-foot (!) wingspan looming overhead.

Driving the news: Perhaps solving a long-running mystery about how the massive creature, known as Quetzalcoatlus, got airborne, a new paper analyzing fossils at the University of Texas suggests it probably leaped at least 8 feet into the air before flapping its wings.

Paleontologists previously speculated the animal rocked forward on its wingtips like a vampire bat.

  • Or that it built speed by running and flapping like an albatross.
  • Some have suggested it used its large arms to pole vault into the air.

Quetzalcoatlus called the Big Bend home when the region was an evergreen forest rather than the desert it is today.

  • Researchers say the animal was heron-like, hunting alone in rivers and streams, using its long, toothless jaws to probe for crabs, worms and clams.

Of note: The fossils of Quetzalcoatlus were initially discovered in 1971 by Douglas Lawson, then a 22-year-old geology graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, in Big Bend National Park.

By the way: Never refer to pterosaurs as dinosaurs, though it's acceptable to call them "flying archosaurs."

Zoom out: When Gov. Greg Abbott asked state agencies last year to identify 5% in budget cuts, UT came back, in part, with cuts to the Texas Memorial Museum, the on-campus natural history museum that houses a cast of Quetzalcoatlus.

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