Quetzalcoatlus – Fossils Reveal the Largest Flying Pterosaur

Fossil of QuetzalcoatlusQuetzalcoatlus was a pterosaur who lived approximately 70 million years ago during the Cretacious Period. They were among some fo the largest known pterosaurs ever to fly through the skies. Their wingspan was about three times longer then that of a condor. That’s 36 feet across. Some believe that the largest specimen found had a wingspan closer to 50 feet across. Amaxingly enough, though, the earliest estimates managed to overpredict how large their wingspan was, at up to 70 feet across. From the tip of beak to tail, they were about 18 feet long. Standing, they would have been as tall as a giraffe.

 

They could have weighed up to 300 pounds, although scientists are still unsure about this. Recent hypotheses are a little more conservative. And I said that they were the largest to fly, but some scientists believe that they would not have been able to fly at all due to their weight. Some believe that they would have glided by throwing themselves off of cliffs. But if Queztalcoatlus did glide, it might have been at speeds reaching 100 miles per hour.

 

Quetzalcoatlus Size DrawingThe first discovery of Quetzalcoatlus fossils was in Texas in 1971. The discovery was made by Douglas Lawson. Lawson continued to find specimens throughout the first half of the 1970s and officially named the species in 1975 after the Aztec god, who is a feathered serpent. Despite this name, however, it is not believed that Quetzalcoatlus had feathers. All the specimens that Lawson found were in Texas and, by the sheer abundance of their fossils in this area, it’s clear that this was their preferred habitat at the time.

There is some debate about the manner in which Quetzalcoatlus ate. Their beaks were unusually sharp and straight for pterosaurs of the time. Some believe that this would make them good scavengers. Quetzalcoatlus fossils have been found near those of sauropods, and it’s possible that they would have scavenged these dinosaurs.

Others think that they skimmed fish from the water to eat with, due to the similar shape in beak as modern-day skimmers. This could also be possible. Paleobiologists know that at the time, Texas was covered by a large and marshy swampland, which would have been the perfect environment for them to fish in. In fact, the swamp extended far North up to Canada, and other pterosaur species have been discovered in association with the swampland, making the latter theory highly plausible.  Thirdly, there now seems to be fossil evidence that instead of scavenging or fishing, that Quetzalcoatlus actively hunted smaller dinosaurs.

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