Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Pterosaur Acrobatics

I received a fun message from David Hone of Archosaur Musings fame yesterday.  Here's the relevant bit:

"A biology teacher in Ireland tweeted me to ask if I thought a pterosaur could pull off a loop-the-loop or victory roll or similar. My guess was 'probably' especially something like and ornithocherid, but I thought you'd love it as a thought problem..."  -- David Hone

It's a fun idea to ponder.  The precise maneuvers available to fossil animals are can be difficult to work out with much confidence, but there are a few things that can be said with confidence:

- The most maneuverable pterosaurs were probably anurognathids, and they could certainly pull off a loop-the-loop or just about anything else you could want from a flying animal.  In fact, anurognathids were probably among the most agile flying animals of all time, right up there with living vesper bats, swifts, and the like.  I talked a bit about their abilities at here.  Mark Witton dealt with them more while debunking the vampire anurognathid concept here.

- For larger pterosaurs, things get a bit trickier, but the inertial problems would still be pretty minor.  The real question becomes whether the animals could handle multiple extra body weights of force on the wings.  Based on work I've done on pterosaur wing strength, as well as work by Colin Palmer, it seems that at least pterosaurs as large as Anhanguera (4-5 meter wingspan) could have handled major rolls or loops.  I have yet to check the numbers for something bigger, like Quetzalcoatlus northropi, but I might have to give it a shot.  I may post a more extensive conversation on it the idea at H2VP soon.


  1. Cool Mike, thanks for getting to that so soon and it's great you have a new blog going.

  2. Many thanks for your excellent concise answer. Unfortunately I cant't take credit was coming up with the idea. The original question was poised by Ed Yong (from Not Exactly Rocket Science) and inspired by Matthew Coombe from the University of Manchester. This is another awesome example of how brilliant twitter is!

  3. I am happy it was helpful. It's excellent to see such interesting questions being spawned by the available social networking tools. Twitter really can be great! I'll have a Twitter account associated with this blog soon, and that should make it easier for individuals to ask questions for discussion on the blog.