Giant Pterosaurs Could Fly 10,000 Miles Nonstop
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Condensed by Native Village
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
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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