last post discussing how we may try to exploit pterosaurs for our own benefit, and in this concluding post we’re going to consider how we may succeed at coexisting with wild pterosaur populations. (Adjacent image: when stork-like animals go wrong)
NOTE: The Blogger upload system has been a real pig this evening, and formatting this post has been nothing short of a nightmare. Apologies in advance for any choppy bits of text or other issues. I have tried to correct errors as I go, but please let me know if I've missed any.
We may even find that some single azhdarchid species were found all over the globe. Some of the recent findings on their flight ability are rather arresting, with the 10 m span giants seemingly capable of flight speeds exceeding 100 kph (62 mph; Witton and Habib 2010). Mike Habib's recent SVP talk suggests that they could remain aloft long enough to travel almost halfway round the world in one sitting (Habib 2010) and, to paraphrase him directly, (imagine this being said VERY LOUDLY for full effect. Those who know Mike will understand why), geographic boundaries would mean nothing to these guys. This may mean that the sort of provincialism we see in some modern fliers may not apply to these forms and, indeed, cautionary words on the implications of this have been said with regard to azhdarchid systematics.
If wild azhdarchids did take foot in urban settings, encounters with them may be a little daunting for human residents. As we discussed in the last post, pterosaurs seem to have increased their average body size over time, so later forms were much larger than the earlier. Perhaps we’d feel fairly confident stopping smaller (2.5 m span) animals from spreading rubbish all over our driveways, but would we feel the same about 4, 7 or 10 m span animals? Perhaps not. Plus, did I mention that these pterosaurs may have been gregarious? Several azhdarchid localities have yielded associated azhdarchid skeletons (Lawson 1975; Cai and Wei 1994) or very abundant azhdarchid remains (Nessov 1984; Ösi et al. 2005), suggesting that they were at least tolerant of each other, or perhaps even hanging around in little groups. All told, in this hypothetical world of pterosaurs, we’d probably need to seriously rethink our philosophy on garbage disposal. Probably best to keep the cat in, too.
We should remind ourselves at this point that we’re a) talking about the minimum width here, so there's possibly room for a little more expansion; and b) these are, so far as we can tell, animals capable of flight, and yet had skull widths that many large dinosaurs would be jealous of. As with many pterosaurs, the asymmetrical nature of the jaw condyle would deflect the lower jaw laterally when opened so that much of the 500 mm jaw width could be used for swallowing food. The posterior palatal region is also highly vaulted, so there is additional swallowing space in the dorsal region oral cavity, too. Combine this with the likelihood of a large gulf between the mandibular rami occupied by distensible gular pouch (known from several exceptionally-preserved pterosaur specimens), and it seems more than likely that Hatzegopteryx could fit a person into its throat.
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