Ancient pterosaurs that lived on Earth at the end of the dinosaur era had abnormally long necks. Scientists recently found out how they managed to keep their heads with heavy prey in their beaks.
Paleontologists from the University of Portsmouth have found out how some pterosaurs managed to cope with their long necks like a giraffe – the whole thing turned out to be in the unusual structure of the cervical vertebrae. The discovery was made possible by new CT scans of intact remains found in Morocco. With the help of new data, scientists have found that the cervical vertebrae of this heavy reptile had a complicated structure, which in cross-section is most similar to a spoked bicycle wheel. It was this design that gave the neck of these animals a strong and lightweight structure.
The authors of the new study suspect this “lightweight” design provided strength without compromising the pterosaurs’ ability to fly.
Previously, scientists believed that the cervical vertebrae of a pterosaur had a simpler, tubular structure. This made them wonder – how thin-walled bones (light bones are necessary for flying animals to lose weight) are able to support a large head with prey in addition?
The researchers originally set out to study the shape and movement of the pterosaur’s neck but used CT to look inside the remains.
Scientists believe the complex design could help engineers design longer, thinner, and stronger lightweight structures.
Pterosaurs appeared in the fossil record of the Triassic period, about 225 million years ago, but disappeared at the end of the Cretaceous period, about 66 million years ago, along with their fellow dinosaurs.