Reporting on the Science NOW website, Kristen Minogue has written of a recent controversy regarding the ability of the largest pterosaurs to fly.
Two recent papers have challenged that the really big “flying” reptiles of the Mesozoic (think Pteranodon or Quetzalcoatlus) were actually too big to get off the ground and remain aloft. The authors suggest that those big pterosaurs had secondarily lost their power of flight. For an animal like Quetzalcoatlus, estimated to have tipped the scales over 1000 pounds, the ability to get that much mass off the ground is certainly a non-trivial issue. The Kori Bustard is often described as the “heaviest flying bird”, sometimes weighing over 40 pounds, but these birds don’t spend a lot of time on the wing while pterosaurs look to have been built like they did.
Paleontologists Mark Witton and Michael Habib examined pterosaur fossils and determined that the pterosaur humerus was twice as robust as the same bone on bird wings. This fits in with their suggestion that to become airborne, all four limbs worked in concert to provide a powerful launching motion to get the animal in the air where its huge wings could exploit the air currents. This doesn’t look like the skeleton of an animal that couldn’t fly: