Native Village
Youth and Education news
 December 1, 2010, Volume 3

Giant Pterosaurs Could Fly 10,000 Miles Nonstop
Read the entire article: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/10/101015-science-giant-pterosaurs-longest-nonstop-flight-distance-record/
Condensed by Native Village

Large pterosaurs may be the frequent-flier champs of the dinosaur age. These huge animals were able to soar up to 10,000 miles at a time.

Paleontologists know of four species of giant pterosaur. Some were as tall as giraffes. Their wingspans were more than 30 feet.  They relied on updrafts of warm air and wind currents to reach their record distances.

"They probably only flapped for a few minutes at a time ... and then their muscles had to recover," said Michael Habib from Chatham University. "In between, they're going to use unpowered flight and glide.

Even so, the winged reptiles burned about 160 pounds worth of fat reserves per trip. "They're basically burning off the equivalent of a good-size human on each trip, Habib said."

Scientists based the pterosaur flight abilities on the ancient animals' wingspans, wing shapes, body masses, and fat capacities.

"The tricky part was deciding how much fuel they can carry," Habib said, adding that birds lose about 50% of their body weight during long migrations."

But the pterosaurs' needs may have been different because they flew differently than modern-day birds. Habib and his colleagues think the large pterosaurs may have used all four limbs to launch themselves into the air before flapping their wings.

The 10,000-mile flight estimate may also be a little conservative, Habib said.

"The lowest range estimates were about 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers), while the highest were around 20,000 miles (32,000 kilometers)," he said. "In the middle range, where all the numbers lined up and I had high confidence, you get about 10,000 miles."

If Habib's calculations are correct, a large pterosaur could crisscross entire continents or fly between continents on a fairly regular basis. They might have been "superspecies" that called the entire globe their home.

"If [giant pterosaurs] could fly very far, that might change how scientists think about their distribution," Habib said.

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