Human babies are markedly different from most newly born creatures in the animal kingdom. Human babies are unable to care for themselves, requiring their parents to provide for all their needs. By contrast, many creatures in the animal kingdom are ready to run and function very shortly after birth. One of the great mysteries paleontologists have been working to solve is if a type of flying dinosaur called a pterosaur could fly as soon as they hatched.
A new study believes they have found an answer to that question. Pterosaurs were flying reptiles that lived during the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous Periods. One of the challenges in learning more about these flying creatures is that fossilized pterosaur eggs and embryos are extremely rare, leading to difficulty distinguishing between hatchlings and small adults. Due to that difficulty, it’s been unclear if newly-hatched pterosaurs were able to fly. Recently paleontologists discovered hatchling humerus bones and believe they have answered that question.
Paleontologists discovered hatchling humerus bones were stronger than those of many adult pterosaurs, indicating they would’ve been strong enough for flight. Researchers also modeled the flying ability of hatchlings using previously obtained wing measurements from four established hatchling and embryo fossils obtained from two pterosaur species. The wing measurements were also compared to those of adults from the same species. Comparisons of the strength of the humerus bones were made, which is part of the wing of the dinosaurs.
Study co-author Dr. Mark Witton says that pterosaurs have been known for over two centuries, but science has only had fossils of their embryos and hatchlings since 2004. Scientists are trying to understand the early stages of life in the creatures, with one of the main discussions centering on if they could fly as hatchlings. Typically, modern birds and bats have to grow before they can fly.
The team found that with only a 25-centimeter wingspan and body, the pterosaur could fit in the palm of the hand but were strong and capable flyers. The bones were strong enough to sustain flapping and takeoff with their wings shaped for powered flight rather than gliding. Researchers believe the hatchling pterosaur was likely a faster and more agile flyer than the much more massive adults.