Quetzalcoatlus – The Biggest Flying Animal of All Time
What is the Quetzalcoatlus?
The Quetzalcoatlus was a flying reptile from the Late Cretaceous period, which means he lived between 66-68 million years ago. His full scientific name is Quetzalcoatlus northropi, in case you’re interested in nomenclature.
He’s classified as a “pterosaur”, which means he was a reptile and was able to fly because he had a membranous webbing that created his “wings”. You can learn more about Pterosaurs in this video:
How Big Was He?
Pretty darn big, actually! The first quetzalcoatlus fossil was found in Texas in 1971. Initially, his wingspan was estimated to be 52 feet (15.9 meters) wide, but later, researchers said it was more like 36 feet wide. Still, that’s a pretty impressive wingspan!
Scientists believe this flying reptile stood about 32 feet 10 inches tall (10 m) and weighed in at about 440-550 pounds (200-250 kg).
Here’s a picture of him next to a man for comparison:
Scientists were curious as to how something so huge could take off and fly so quickly, so they used computer models to study how it was possible. Turns out, they probably took off in under a second by using all 4 legs to generate the initial lift.
What Did He Eat?
The truth is, no one really knows. But since the fossils were found in an area that didn’t have lakes or seas nearby, scientists assume he wasn’t a big fish-eater. Based on the anatomy of its skull and beak, the most plausible explanation so far is that he probably hunted and ate small vertebrates, like modern-day storks.
So the Quetzalcoatlus was probably the largest flying animal ever, but what about the largest flying animal who’s extant?
Well, if you go by wingspan, that would be the Wandering Albatross. It has a wingspan of about 12 feet. (the Andean Condors are next with a wingspan of about 10 feet). If you go by weight, though, it would be the Kori Bustard which weighs up to 45lbs.