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How to ride a pterosaur, according to science

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“During the Late Cretaceous, winged prehistoric creatures called pterosaurs dominated the air. They were the first vertebrates to master flight. They were not dinosaurs but closely related… They came in a variety of shapes and sizes, from tiny bat things to giant fliers the size of a small airplane.”

So, of course, one might ask, “Could you ride one?” Could a pterosaur carry a human? In this delightful BBC Reel video, Pomona Pictures science producer Pierangelo Pirak pitches a few pterosaur saddle and glider ideas to Dr. Liz Martin-Silverstone.

seeing a pterosaur for the first time
A paleontologist interested in biomechanics, Martin-Silverstone expertly responds with what we know about Azhdarchidaes like Quetzalcoatlus, big pterosaurs with long necks, no tales, and heads that “are just ridiculously big for the rest of their body.”

The video illustrates both the imaginative ideas and the known science with animated visualizations.

quadrupedal locomotion
pterosaur take-off
An excerpt from Dr. Martin-Silverstone:

“So we know that they walked on all fours… they were actually walking around with their, like, the little fingers stick out from the wings would be on the ground. And what we now think is that they were actually using those arms to kind of pole vault. They sort of push themselves off of the ground.

“It’s called a ballistic launch, so they can use the power from there, like ligaments and muscles, to push off the ground using their forelimbs. The advantage of that is that you can really focus all of the muscle into just the pectoral girdle. And you don’t have to worry about the legs because they’re not launching.”

She also discusses rider positions, aerodynamics, weight considerations, biology, and other factors that might make riding Azhdarchidaes “pretty difficult.”

drag on a flying pterosaur
pterosaur bone

Watch more videos about flight studies on TKSST:
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The physics of why birds fly in V-formation
• Silent flight superpower of a stealthy predator: The Owl
• Like Feathered Fighter Jets: Peregrine Falcons
• Birds gliding through helium bubbles reveal an aerodynamic trick
• Insects Take Flight: Rare slow-motion footage from the Ant Lab

Bonus: Rebuilding a real T. Rex with scientific research and new technologies

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