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115 mln-yr-old pterosaur could not only walk and fly, but also sail across the sea

Washington, Sun, 25 Oct 2009 ANI

Washington, October 25 (ANI): A team of scientists has determined that a particular pterosaur that existed 115 million years ago was a master of nature's drawing boards, as it not only could walk and fly, but also sail across the sea.


With a tail rudder on its head and a spindly, bat-like body, Tapejara wellnhoferi, the pterosaur, may appear fit for nothing but extinction.


However, researchers at Texas Tech University, the University of Kansas and University of Florida have found that the animal's strange body actually made it a mastery of nature's drawing boards.


Not only could it walk and fly, but it could also sail across the sea.


Tapejara, a native coastal dweller of what is now Brazil, was an excellent flyer that also had an innate nautical knowledge of sailing, according to Sankar Chatterjee, Horn Professor of Geosciences and curator of paleontology at the Museum of Texas Tech University.


Much like a Transformer, it could manipulate its body to match the same configuration as the world's fastest modern windsurfers and sail across the surface of the ocean in search of prey.


Then, it could take off quickly if the toothy underwater predators of its time got too close for comfort.


"The free ride from the wind would allow these animals to cover a large territory in search of food," Chatterjee said. "Apparently, these pterosaurs knew the secrets of sailing that many novice sailors do not," he added.


Chatterjee and his research team determined Tapejara's sailing ability by studying the aero-hydrodynamics of pterosaur wings through physics and computer simulation.


According to Chatterjee, the basic design of Tapejara is a cross between two types of sailing vessels.


The "hull" of the pterosaur is formed by dipping the breast bone into the water. The two hind legs directed backward functioned like lateral hulls.


This design allowed the animal to skate on top of the water on triple surfboards just like the Wiebel - the world's fastest trimaran windsurfer.


This hull design minimizes contact with water, offers stability and enhances speed.


Rather than depend on a tailwind for propulsion, which doesn't maximize speed, the animal probably opted to use a two-mast-and-jib design.


The animal probably lifted its wings up vertically to act like sails during surface swimming.


Rod-like structures called actinofibrils served as sail battens, giving stiffness to the wing skin so it wouldn't tear from the breeze.


The cranial rudder functioned as a sailboat's jib and helped with direction control.


"In downwind sailing, the wings act like parachutes, and the air is decelerated," Chatterjee said. (ANI)


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