Stuff That’s Awesome #1: Quetzalcoatlus

Stuff that’s awesome is a series of posts where I describe something awesome in 600 words or less. The subject of posts can be absolutely anything- the only inclusion criteria is that I feel the subject does not get the recognition its level of awesome would suggest. The aim of the series is simply to promote awesomeness and hopefully brighten a few people’s days by making them aware of a few more things in the world that are just plain cool.

 

When people talk about the iconic dinosaurs, they talk about T-rex. They talk about raptors. They talk about stegosaurus, triceratops, apatosaurus (except they probably call it brontosaurus because they’re plebs) and maybe spinosaurus if they’ve seen Jurassic Park 3. All of those dinosaurs are pretty awesome in their own right. But there’s one prehistoric monster who I feel never gets the attention it deserves. And that’s the subject of today’s post- the airborne goliath that is Quetzalcoatlus.

Quetzalcoatlus (Quetzalcoatlus northropi) was a flying lizard native to North America in the late Cretacious period. It is the largest species of pterosaur ever recorded, with a wingspan of approximately 36 feet.

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Let that sink in for a minute. This is a flying lizard with an 11 metre wingspan. That’s the length of six people. Or the length of a bus. This thing has a wingspan bigger than some aircraft. A LIZARD that’s bigger than a small aeroplane. That is one big, terrifying, awe-inspiring, big, heart attack inducing, big lizard. That can fly.

For me there was one particular size comparison that really made it hit home just how terrifyingly large this thing is, and that was its size when on the ground. When at rest, perched on its four limbs, Quetzalcoatlus was over six metres high. That’s taller than a giraffe.

That’s a BIRD that’s taller than a giraffe.

quetzalcoatlus

Named after the Aztec feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl, this winged monstrosity was an active hunter, swooping down from the sky to snatch up baby dinosaurs and other prehistoric animal life. It’s long, sturdy beak might also have been used to skim lakes for fish or even to impale and kill small terrestrial animals. For a long time there was some debate among palaeontologists about whether Quatzalcoatlus could actually fly, as most flight models and mass estimations predicted that sustained flight just wasn’t possible for something that massive.

More recent research, based on accurate measurements of bone density and weight, reveal that Quatzalcoatlus was a frighteningly adept flyer, able to soar at speeds of up to 80mph for days on end. For takeoff it used its muscular forelimbs to launch itself into the air, able to take off from standing in seconds.

Just look at it. How badly would seeing that thing rear its massive head out from over a canopy of trees totally ruin your day? Or seeing the ground beneath you go dark as it loomed overhead, its colossal wings blocking out the sun as it circled, circled, ever closer until it swoops down upon you with an earth-rending cry, claws outstretched like the jaws of hell…

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I wonder if the reason it’s never been seen in fiction much is that no one would believe it was real. Such a gigantic, nightmarish flying creature doesn’t fit with our idea of what can really exist outside of high fantasy… it’s just a bit too close to being a dragon to be believable. And yet it was real. It ruled the prehistoric skies for over 5 million years, for aeons longer than humans have existed.

The largest living thing to ever fly… a true monster from an ancient world.

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