Expert: Pterosaurs (here depicted on ancient African mask) Couldn’t Fly

Posted by Chris Parker
Oct 06 2008

Photo 1 Ancient African Mask from the book: African Art in American Collections, by Robbins & Nooter

Photo 2 Mask “pterosaur” compared with modern drawings of pterodactylus kochi. Many times pterodactylus is described or drawn without the crest but a 1998 fossil find had the soft tissue preserved which showed a striated soft-tissue crest on the skull.

Pterosaurs were supposed to have gone extinct 65 million years ago or so. Why is a pterodactylus kochi depicted on an African mask less than 1,000 years old? That’s a question for those who believe they were extinct before man came along. We believe that they were contemporaneous with the artist.

This expert (in our main article, below) has concluded that many of these creatures were too large to fly which begs the question; how did gangly wings which did not aid in flight make pterosaurs better able to survive? In other words, what would be the evolutionary advantage to pterosaur wings? Style?…

Pterosaurs Could Not Fly

Paris – A Japanese researcher has put paleo-biologists in a flap by suggesting pterosaurs – the winged lizards beloved of toymakers and dino movies – were unable to fly, New Scientist says.

Katsufumi Sato of the University of Tokyo carried out an unusual study on the Crozet Islands, in the southern Indian Ocean, to test flying ability among large sea birds.

He attached accelerometers the size of AA batteries to the wings of 28 birds from five large species, including the wandering albatross, the world’s biggest flying bird.

Albatrosses fly by riding shifting winds, thanks to wings spanning 3.5 metres whose shape can be varied to exploit each draft.

When there is no wind, or if the wind blows at a constant speed, the bird can only stay aloft by flapping its wings, otherwise it is forced down by gravity and air resistance.

In a months-long experiment, Sato’s instruments showed that the seabirds had two flapping speeds – fast for taking off, and slow, for keeping aloft when the wind dies, New Scientist says.

The bird’s flapping speed is limited by its muscle strength, and the speed decreases for heavier birds that have longer wings, Sato found.

Flying in zero winds

According to Sato’s calculations, animals heavier than 40kg would be unable to flap fast enough to fly in zero winds.

A wandering albatross is fine, as it weighs 22kg – but the news is terrible for pterosaurs. Large ones would be unable to stay aloft, by this benchmark.

The largest pterosaur specimen found, Quetzalcoatlus northropi, had a wingspan of 11-12 metres and its weight is estimated to be in the order of 100kg.

Sato presented his results at a Biologging Science Symposium in Stanford University, California last month.

He has run into flak from pterosaur fans who are convinced that their creatures were “dynamic soarers” like the albatross and could sustain active flight and not just glide.

Differences in anatomy, physiology and environment must be taken into account when comparing the two sets of flyers, they say, according to the New Scientist report. …News


The animal now known as Pterodactylus was the first pterosaur ever to be identified. The first Pterodactylus specimen was described by the Italian scientist Cosimo Collini in 1784, based on a fossil skeleton unearthed from the Solnhofen limestone of Bavaria. Collini was the curator of the “Naturalienkabinett”, or nature cabinet (a precursor to the modern concept of the natural history museum), in the palace of Charles Theodore, Elector of Bavaria. Collini, however, did not recognize the specimen as a flying animal. In fact, Collini could not fathom what kind of animal it might have been. He speculated that it may have been a sea creature, not for any anatomical reason, but because he thought the ocean depths were more likely to have housed unknown types of animals.The idea that pterosaurs were aquatic animals persisted among a minority of scientists as late as 1830, when the German zoologist Johann Georg Wagler published a text on “amphibians” which included an illustration of Pterodactylus using its wings as flippers. Wagler went so far as to classify Pterodactylus, along with other aquatic vertebrates (namely plesiosaurs, ichthyosaurs, and monotremes), in the class Gryphi.


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2 Responses

  1. Daniel Moore says:

    Chris–As we have discussed before, something in the pre-Flood environment allowed animals (and plants) of great size to operate freely in apparent contradiction of bio-physical rules (square-cube rule, etc.). The fossils of enormous treetrunks found in the western U.S. indicate giant plants enjoyed advantages. An outrageous notion occurs to me: if flyers of 100 kilos could exist, why not winged humans? I don’t mean (fallen) angels, which are spiritual beings, but carnal creatures, probably bio-engineered. The problem of gravity is still with us. I think there are electrostatic and electrogravitic models of the world that could help us understand what happened during the Cataclysm event–and changed conditions on earth thereafter.–Dan Moore

  2. Shiv says:

    This is weird! Pterosaurs didnt fly? What about Ropen sightings in New Guinea? Also Kongomato in Africa? Perhaps they were small enough to fly.

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