A few days ago I saw most of a David Attenborough film on Quetzalcoatlus, a pterosaur which, when on the ground, stood the height of a giraffe; in flight, it was the size of a small aeroplane.
These creatures were around from approximately 90 million years ago until the end of the age of dinosaurs. There has been much speculation as to how pterosaurs ‘worked’, appearing to be so clumsy on the ground and awkward taking off, that they would have easily fallen prey to predators. The Attenborough film showed how scans of the fossilised bones showed them to be hollow, and thus light and very strong. Based on this, an animation demonstrated how the creatures could leap into the air—much like a frog—enabling their large wings to carry them into flight.
The ability to fly, to evade predation and search very effectively for food, must have been a great evolutionary benefit. It explains how the species was able to survive for millions of years in what must have been a very inhospitable environment.
These days, with CGI representation in films limited in scope only by the imagination of the computer programmers, we are apt to get blasé about the representation of fabulous creatures on the screen. This programme on Quetzalcoatlus demonstrated yet again the validity of that tortured old cliché, that truth really is stranger than fiction.
I imagined coming across one of those creatures in the fields where I walk. A flying demon with a thirty-foot wingspan and wicked six foot beak swooping low over the fields in my direction. And if it decided I might make a decent lunch, how I would react to it towering over me on the ground? Thank goodness I’m never likely to find out.
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs