How pterosaurs learned flying, new research


This 2017 video is a documentary about pterosaurs.

From the University of Reading in England:

Giant lizards learnt to fly over millions of years

Study uses new method to show that Pterosaurs became twice as good at flying over their existence

October 28, 2020

Pterodactyls and other related winged reptiles that lived alongside the dinosaurs steadily improved their ability to fly to become the deadly masters of the sky over the course of millions of years.

A new study published in the journal Nature has shown that pterosaurs — a group of creatures that became Earth’s first flying vertebrates — evolved to improve their flight performance over their 150 million-year existence, before they went extinct at the same time as the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

Scientists from the Universities of Reading, Lincoln and Bristol carried out the most detailed study yet into how animals evolve to become better suited to their environments over time. They combined fossil records with a new model of flight based on today’s living birds to measure their flight efficiency and fill in the gaps in our knowledge of their evolutionary story.

This allowed the scientists to track the gradual evolution of pterosaurs and demonstrate that they became twice as good at flying over the course of their history. It also showed that their evolution was caused by consistent small improvements over a long period, rather than sudden evolutionary bursts as had been previously suggested.

Professor Chris Venditti, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading and lead author of the study, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, said: “Pterosaurs were a diverse group of winged lizards, with some the size of sparrows and others with the wingspan of a light aircraft. Fans of the movie Jurassic World will have seen a dramatisation of just how huge and lethal these creatures would have been. Their diet consisted mostly of other animals, from insects to smaller dinosaurs.

“Despite their eventual prowess in the air being well-known, the question of whether pterosaurs got better at flying and whether this gave them an advantage over their ancestors has puzzled scientists for decades. There are many examples of how natural selection works on relatively short time scales, but until now it has been very difficult to demonstrate whether plants or animals adapt to become more efficient over a long period.”

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