Pole vaulting revealed as lost secret of how massive dinos soared
Published 16/11/2010 | 05:00
Scientists said today they had 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, 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.
"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."
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. Previous theories have asserted that giant pterosaurs could have been six metres tall with a wingspan of up to 12 metres but the researchers argue that five metres high with a 10 metre wingspan would have been more realistic.
Dr Witton said: "The size of the flight muscles in a giant pterosaur would be incredible: they alone would be up to 50kg and account for 20pc of the animal's total mass providing tremendous power and lift."