Quirks & Quarks

Maximum Pterosaur

How big could history's largest flying creature get?
Model of Quetzalcoatlus, the largest known Pterosaur (Alina Zienowicz, cc-by-sa-3.0)
Pterosaurs were the largest flying animals ever, with the largest fossil animals having a wingspan of more than 10 meters - larger than many small planes, and three times as large as any living bird.

But Dr. Michael Habib, an assistant professor in cell and neurobiology at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, wondered if they could get any bigger and what ultimately limited their maximum size.

In engineering simulations, he found that for flight and landing they could be much bigger, but that it was launch - getting off the ground - that ultimately limited their size. Pterosaurs used a unique four-footed "vault" to get into the sky, but the power-to-weight ratio necessary for that launch, according to his calculations, means that a 12-meter wingspan was probably as big as they could get. 

Related Links

- Society of Vertebrate Paleontology release
Science news article