Chatham University

Innovation & Research

Discover magazine names biology professor Mike Habib's research into flying reptiles one of the Top 100 stories of 2009

One of the biggest dinosaur mysteries has been how pterosaurs, one of the largest flying reptiles, actually got off the ground. For years, paleontologists assumed that pterosaurs must have run a long distance to build launch speed, using mostly their hind limbs, and that the very largest species (which could be as tall as a giraffe) must have used hills, cliffs, or ridges to launch. But the answers raised more questions.

After studying pterosaur fossils with modern scanning techniques, Michael Habib, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology at Chatham University, theorized that they used all four of their strong limbs together to push themselves off the ground and fly, without need for running or cliffs. His research into pterosaur flight, originally published in the European journal Zitteliana, was named one of 100 Top Stories of 2009 by Discover, the science magazine.

Pterosaurs – considered reptiles, not dinosaurs – lived 230 million to 65 million years ago from the Triassic to Cretaceous periods. The largest species would reach up to 500 pounds with a 34-foot wingspan – the size of some small aircraft.

Dr. Habib utilized CAT scans to compare bone strength in modern birds with 12 species of pterosaurs. “I found that, like bats, pterosaurs folded their wings and used their stronger arm muscles to push themselves off the ground,” he explains. “These were massive reptiles but their wings could withstand more than 2,000 pounds of force to vault into the air.”

Source: Discover Magazine


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