A breakthrough discovery says pterodactyls, extinct flying reptiles, also known as pterosaurs, had a remarkable ability to fly from birth.
This discovery is important because no other living vertebrates today, or in the history of life, have been able to replicate this finding.
Findings Critical to Understanding Dinosaur World
This revelation has a profound impact on our understanding of how pterodactyls lived, which is critical to how the dinosaur world worked as a whole.
Pterodactyls were thought to only be able to fly once they grew to almost full size, just like birds or bats.
This assumption was based on fossilized embryos of the creatures found in China that had poorly developed wings.
Pterodactyls Growing and Flying from Birth
However, two researchers disproved this hypothesis.
Dr. David Unwin, a University of Leicester palaeobiologist who specializes in the study of pterodactyls and Dr. Charles Deeming, a University of Lincoln zoologist who researches avian and reptilian reproduction, compared these embryos with data on prenatal growth in birds and crocodiles.
They found that they were still at an early stage of development and a long way from hatching.
The discovery of more advanced embryos in China and Argentina that died just before they hatched provided the evidence that pterodactyls could fly from birth.
“Theoretically what pterosaurs did growing and flying, is impossible, but they did it anyway,” says Dr. Unwin.
Baby Pterodactyls Required No Parental Care
Another fundamental difference between baby pterodactyls, also known as flaplings, and baby birds or bats, is that they had no parental care and had to feed and look after themselves from birth.
Their ability to fly gave them a lifesaving survival mechanism used to evade carnivorous dinosaurs.
This ability also proved to be one of their biggest killers.
The dangerous and challenging process of flight led to many of them dying at a very early age.
The research also challenges the current view that pterodactyls behaved in a similar way to birds and bats, and provides possible answers to some key questions surrounding these animals.
Explains Pterodactyl’s Enormous Wingspan
Since flaplings were able to both fly and grow from birth, this provides a possible explanation as to why they were able to reach enormous wingspans.
These wingspans are more extensive than any historic or current species of bird or bat.
Researchers say how pterodactyls carried out this process will require additional research, but it’s a question that wouldn’t have been posed without these recent developments.
“Our technique shows that pterosaurs were different from birds and bats and so comparative anatomy can reveal novel developmental modes in extinct species,” adds Dr. Deeming.