By being the largest pterosaur ever found, Quetzalcoatlus has quite a reputation, especially with those who design and build planes. It may seem weird that an “extinct” animal (and others from his species) would be the model for droid planes and such but it happens.

Quetzalcoatlus Features

  • Small crest
  • Long beak
  • 26 feet long while in flight (with feet trailing)
  • Long neck
  • 33-39 foot wingspan

Theories and Probabilities

  • Ate on land (unlike other pterosaurs)
  • Used crest to help steer
  • Used bill to help steer

All the hitherto mentioned theories are most likely probabilities considering the multiple factors derived from the skeletons from these pterosaurs.

Quetzalcoatlus Analysis

Head

Image copyright Joe Tucciarone

Unlike some other pterosaurs, Quetzalcoatlus had a small crest. Pteranodon had a large crest and some other kinds had ones 31 inches tall! Either way this crest would have helped control the flight pattern if needed. Just look at the flaps on a plane. You move one little flap and you can completely change the plane’s direction.

If Quetzalcoatlus used his crest as a type of rudder that would greatly help him in capturing prey (if he captured prey from the air that is) for he could quickly steer toward the subject of interest.

The beak was long (could be the length of a grown man is tall) and sharp on a Quetzalcoatlus and, because the fossil was found in land beds,  scientists figure Quetzalcoatlus must have been some kind of land-eater instead of a water-eater like what is applied to most other pterosaurs. The beak may have been used to forage through the ground for plants for food. Perhaps Quetzalcoatlus even ate plants after the fall.

Feet and Tail

Like all other pterodactyls the tail on Quetzalcoatlus was very small and wouldn’t have contributed much work to the overall flight over the reptile. The feet probably trailed behind Quetzalcoatlus as he flew. This kept them out of the way and gave him better aerodynamics.

It is doubtful the pterosaur could take off by running and flapping because of the weak and spindly legs. They probably couldn’t support the body well enough to be stable enough to take-off. So, scientists propose Quetzalcoatlus  probably took-off from cliffs on all fours.

That is one of many reasons scientists believe Quetzalcoatlus was quadrupedal (walked on all fours) when on land. In other words, they believe that, when the reptile had landed and was walking around on land, that they bent over on their hands (about halfway between the beginning and end of the wing) and sort of took steps like a crawling baby would.

Wings

For more on pterosaur wings see Amazing Wings. Quetzalcoatlus’ wings were very long, as you can imagine, and recent estimates put it between 33 and 39 feet wingspan! That is enough feet to stack six and a half six-foot-tall people or nearly 19 newborns. Those are two huge wings.

Like many birds today it is thought that Quetzalcoatlus glided over surrounding areas when in the air, flapping occasionally. This is due to the huge size of the wings and the amount of airspace they cover. Also, thermals from the ground would have kept the creature up.

Conclusion

Whether you are a Quetzalcoatlus fan or not you have to marvel at the complexity of these creatures. And, while you are marveling, don’t forget about the One who created Quetzalcoatlus.

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