Pterosaurs, one of the first and largest vertebrates to learn to fly, have often been seen as the cool cousins of the infamous Tyrannosaurus rex.

Now scientists have discovered the 100m-year-old secret to the success of the flying pterosaur: a neck longer than a giraffe.

Palaeontologists from Portsmouth University have been puzzled at how gigantic flying azhdarchid pterosaurs have managed to support their thin necks as they take off and fly while carrying heavy prey animals.

But thanks to new CT scans of intact remains, discovered in Morocco, the mystery has been solved.

The findings, published in iScience, show a complex image of spoke-like structures, arranged in a helix around a central tube inside the neck vertebra, similar to that of a bicycle wheel.

This intricate design is said to demonstrate how these flying reptiles had evolved to support their massive heads that often measure longer than 1.5 metres.

Scientists suspect this “lightweight” construction offered strength, without compromising the pterosaurs’ ability to fly. 

April 14, 2021 — Frederic della Faille

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