Scientists say they have disproved claims that enormous prehistoric winged beasts could not fly, with new evidence that they “pole-vaulted” themselves into the sky.
Dr Mark Witton, a palaeontologist from the University of Portsmouth and Dr Michael Habib from Chatham University USA, have studied how the giant pterosaur, which was as big as a giraffe, could fly.
They found that the reptiles took off by using the powerful muscles of their legs and arms to push off from the ground, effectively pole-vaulting over their wings.
Once airborne they could fly huge distances and even cross continents, the scientists claim.
Dr Witton said: “Most birds take off either by running to pick up speed and jumping into the air before flapping wildly, or if they’re small enough, they may simply launch themselves into the air from a standstill.
“Previous theories suggested that giant pterosaurs were too big and heavy to perform either of these manoeuvres and therefore they would have remained on the ground. But when examining pterosaurs the bird analogy can be stretched too far.
“These creatures were not birds, they were flying reptiles with a distinctly different skeletal structure, wing proportions and muscle mass.
“They would have achieved flight in a completely different way to birds and would have had a lower angle of take off and initial flight trajectory. The anatomy of these creatures is unique.”
Their research, published in the international Public Library of Science journal, PLoS ONE, follows claims that pterosaurs were too heavy to take off like birds.
But Drs Witton and Habib suggest that the creatures, with up to 50kg of forelimb muscle, could easily have launched themselves into the air despite their massive size and weight.