10 Largest (Pterosaurs) Prehistoric Flying Reptiles
Giant flying dinosaur and largest flying dinosaur – these phrases are often typed into Google searches in order to find pterosaurs. But dinosaurs mainly could not fly. Dinosaurs and pterosaurs are different creatures. Dinosaurs were mainly terrestrial reptiles, while pterosaurs were solely flying reptiles. But these two types of animals had a lot in common. And one of the things they had in common is that they were the largest creatures. Dinosaurs are cosidered to be the largest land creatures ever, while pterosaurs are cosidered to be the largest flying creatures ever. And this artcile is about the largest known pterosaurus.
Here’s my list of ten largest prehistoric flying reptiles.
A pterodactyl named Pteranodon
There were many species of flying reptiles 86 million years ago, and some of the most common pterosaurs were Pteranodons. Anatomically, these flying reptiles resembled albatrosses, the owners of the largest wingspan in the world today. The wingspan of albatrosses can reach 3.7 m (12 ft 2 in), while that of Pteranodons is estimated at 7 meters (23 feet). Like the albatross, pteranodon fed on fish. And there is some solid proof of this. While studying Pteranodon fossils, scientists discovered fish bones and scales.
Fossils of these pterosaurs also indicate that the head and neck of Pteranodon were very strong, and the beak was well adapted for catching fish.
Pteranodon may have hunted in many different ways. It has been suggested that it would have been doing this in much the same way as some modern birds do. For example, Pteranodon would have dipped its long beak in the water while flying, skimming along the surface until a fish ended up in its jaws. Also, Pteranodon could hunt fish by diving into the water from flight.
This pterosaur was an efficient fisherman, and another efficient fish hunter was a pterosaur named Thapunngaka shawi, known to have existed 104 million years ago. It was probably the largest pterosaur in its habitat.
Australia’s Largest Pterosaur- Thapunngaka shawi
Thapunngaka shawi is the largest pterosaur found in Australia. Its wingspan would be between 5.83 to 9.47 meters (19.1 to 31.1 ft).
The pterosaur had a tiny skull and a huge maw about a meter long, armed with nearly 40 long and sharp teeth. There were crests on the top and bottom of the beak of this pterosaur. One of their functions probably could have been hydrodynamic – the crests may have prevented the beak from “deflecting” as the pterosaur sliced through the surface of the water with it while flying, searching for prey.
This reptile was an ideal hunting machine. It is believed that Thapunngaka was primarily a fish hunter, although it may have also hunted smaller dinosaurs.
Next on the list is Moganopterus. This predator had a narrow skull and a neck that was elongated and flexible, like that of a heron. The skull of Moganopterus, measuring about 95 centimeters (3.12 ft) in length, is considered to be the largest among toothed flying reptiles. The long beak was armed with dozens of sharp, conical teeth that grew up to 31 mm (1.2 in) long. This pterosaur had a wingspan of about 7 m (23 ft). And 124 million years ago, it was one of the largest flying predators, if not the largest.
Moganopterus might have hunted small dinosaurs and fish in a similar manner to that of a modern heron.
Another large toothed pterosaur existed 12 million years before the previous one. It is known as Coloborhynchus. If the proportions of its remains match that of other pterosaurs in the family which it belongs to, then the wingspan of this pterosaur was 7 m (23 ft) and the total skull length – up to 75 cm.
The skull was full of sharp teeth. Interestingly, the front two grew forward while the next three pairs grew sideways. For people with such a “overbite”, the dentist would recommend braces. However, the dentition had its advantages. It allowed Coloborhynchus to securely grip prey and carry it in the mouth where the pterosaur desired to. It is also interesting that no pterosaur apparently could carry its prey from place to place in its paws because, unlike the paws of eagles, for example, pterosaur paws were not adapted for this purpose. They were adapted for walking.
One more flying giant from the age of dinosaurs is known as Geosternbergia. This reptile floated above the earth 88 million years ago. It is estimated that the length of its lower mandible was 1 m 25 cm (4.1 ft), and the wingspan – 7.25 meters (23.8 ft).
A distinctive feature of this pterosaur was its large crest. It towered over the snout of the predator for half a meter.
Scientists still cannot answer the question: why did this flying reptile needed such a thing? In fact, there were many crested pterosaurs. And the crests were different. So scientists have several theories about their purposes:
Version number one: Pterosaurs used crests to maneuver in the air.
Version number two: the crests ensured thermoregulation. The thin layer of skin that covered the crest may have had many blood vessels. During flight, air currents cooled the blood, which protected the animals from overheating.
Version number three: Crests were part of sexual selection, much like the tail of peacocks. The larger the male’s crest, the more the females liked the male.
The first two theories are impossible to prove. It has never been seen how pterosaurs flew and hunted. But there is indirect evidence for the third version. Pterosaurs that had large crests were males. Juveniles and females had smaller crests.
But it is likely that crests were not just a feature of sexual dimorphism, but had several purposes.
Another flying giant is Tropeognathus. This reptile might have had a wingspan of 8.26 meters (27.1 ft). Its wings were light, thin and curved. With such wings, it would be very comfortable to float in the air, using not muscle power but ascending and descending air currents. Apparently, these pterosaurs could glide for hours over the sea, gathering fish using their huge mouths.
112 million years ago, these flying reptiles ruled the skies over Brazilian territory. And 76 million years ago, Cryodrakon could be seen gliding over Canadian territory.
The ‘Frozen Dragon’ of the North – Cryodrakon boreas
This reptile was named after the Night King’s dragon from the TV series Game of Thrones.
Paleontologists, however, have not found a complete skeleton of Cryodrakon. But there is a part of the fifth cervical vertebra. It is considered that its length was 50 cm (1.6 ft). By comparing it with the remains of other giant pterosaurs, the researchers concluded that Cryodrakon may have had a wingspan of 10 meters (33 ft). So this pterosaur is not one of the top three largest known pterosaurs, but Quetzalcoatlus is.
The wingspan of this giant has been estimated at 11 meters (36 ft), and being in an upright position, Quetzalcoatlus would be able to look into the windows on the second floor.
This pterosaur may have weighed around 200–250 kg (440–550 lb). By comparison, the average horse weighs 300 kilograms. And yet Quetzalcoatlus flew. It is believed that to lift itself off the ground, Quetzalcoatlus pushed off with its limbs, leaping two and a half meters into the air.
The powerful push gave the necessary boost and the predator rose. In the air, Quetzalcoatlus was capable of flight up to 130 km/h (80 mph) for 7 to 10 days at altitudes of 4,600 m (15,000 ft), and its maximum flight range could be 19,000 km (12,000 mi), meaning this pterosaur would have been able to fly across half of the Earth, and it has a circumference of 40,075.017 km (24,901.461 mi).
To supplement its energy needs, Quetzalcoatlus northropi probably hunted small dinosaurs, much like storks hunt frogs.
This pterosaur existed 66 million years ago just like another large pterosaur – namely Hatzegopteryx. Its wingspan is estimated at 12 m (39 ft).
The largest Transylvanian pterosaur – Hatzegopteryx
And compared to the other pterosaurs on this list, Hatzegopteryx was probably the strongest. The skull was massively built, with large areas of muscle attachment. Unlike many other pterosaurs whose bones were hollow inside, this animal’s bones showed a spongy internal structure. Hatzegopteryx had a short, strong and powerfully muscled neck of 1.5 m (5 ft) in length, about half that of other pterosaurs of comparable wingspan. And its neck had great bending strength. This is the way Hatzegopteryx is described. And this, among other things, suggests that Hatzegopteryx was an apex predator, and may have killed proportionally larger prey than other giant pterosaurs.
This reptile lived on the prehistoric island of Hateg, where dinosaurs were miniature versions of their mainland relatives as a result of a phenomenon called insular dwarfism. Many dwarf dinosaurs were no more than two meters tall (6,5 ft). And they were probably the main food for Hatzegopteryx.
It is believed that this pterosaur was the largest predator on the island of Hateg.
Arambourgiania philadelphiae – probably the largest pterosaur ever
However, in the Late Cretaceous, in addition to the previous two pterosaurs, there was another giant pterosaur known as Arambourgiania. Its cervical vertebrae is estimated at 78 cm (31 in) long. The same vertebra of Quetzalcoatlus was only 66 cm (31 in) long. By comparing these bones, the researchers calculated the size of the pterosaur Arambourgiania. They estimated that its neck was three meters long (9.8 ft). And the neck of modern giraffes reaches no more than 240 cm (94 in) in lenght. And the wingspan of the pterosaur was from 12 to 13 m (39 ft – 42 ft). Arambourgiania was probably the largest flying reptile in the history of Earth.
These were the largest flying reptiles ever. Hope this article was helpful and interested to you.