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How pterosaurs took flight

Ancient reptiles may have leapfrogged into the sky

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12:00pm, October 19, 2008

CLEVELAND — Extinct flying reptiles known as pterosaurs — especially large ones, which had wingspans as broad as a single-engine plane — may have taken flight by leapfrogging into the air, new analyses suggest.

Pterosaurs, a group that includes pterodactyls, lived in the era of the dinosaurs. Like modern birds and many other animals, pterosaurs are tetrapods, or creatures with four limbs. While birds on the ground use only two of those limbs to get around, trails of fossilized footprints indicate that pterosaurs walked on all fours, says Michael Habib, a biomechanicist at the Center for Functional Anatomy and Evolution at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. Most previous studies have presumed that pterosaurs spring into the air from a bipedal stance, like modern birds do, but analyses of pterosaur anatomy don’t support that idea, Habib reported October 17 at the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

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