The scientific community has debated whether or not pterosaurs could fly for years. A new theory suggests that these winged creatures may have pole vaulted on their own wings to get airborne.
Pterosaurs, once called pterodactyls, are most often portrayed in films and books as predators cruising through the sky. In reality, the idea of them flying has always been contested. Discovered in the 1700s, they were first considered sea creatures. Their long arms, and the tissue that would have stretched between those arms and their body, were thought to be fins or flippers. It wasn't until the mid-eighteen hundreds that it was suggested that they flew through the air and not the water.
The suggestion that even the larger pterosaurs could fly, while increasing and decreasing in popularity, has always been considered ridiculous by parts of the scientific community. Some pterosaurs were the size of giraffes. Unlike giraffes, they weren't much to look at in the leg department. Large birds pick up speed with their legs when they want to fly, and the weak, stubby legs of pterosaurs weren't powerful enough to launch such big bodies into the air.
According to Doctor Mark Witton of the University of Portsmouth and Doctor Michael Habib of Chatham University, it was wrong to assume that pterosaurs launched themselves into the air the ways birds do. Doctor Witton explains:
These creatures were not birds; they were flying reptiles with a distinctly different skeletal structure, wing proportions and muscle mass. They would have achieved flight in a completely different way to birds and would have had a lower angle of take off and initial flight trajectory. The anatomy of these creatures is unique.
Instead of running, the two researchers think that the pterosaur crouched down, lowered its wings to touch the ground in front of its body, and used it legs to push itself up onto its wing bones. Once it had its weight on its powerful wings, the wings would launch it forward and up into the air. The wings themselves would then lift off the ground, unfurl and fly.