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Pterosaurs were an ancient group of winged reptiles that lived alongside the dinosaurs. Many pterosaurs were very large, some as large as a giraffe and with a wingspan of over 12 meters. Paleontologists have long wondered whether large pterosaurs were capable of powered flight (flying by flapping their wings) or whether they were able only to glide. Several arguments have been made against powered flight.

Doubters point out that since modern reptiles are cold-blooded, ancient reptiles such as pterosaurs were probably cold-blooded as well. Cold-blooded animals typically have a slow metabolism and are unable to produce a lot of energy. Powered flight is an activity requiring a lot of energy, which is why all modern vertebrates that fly are warm-blooded, not cold-blooded. It seemed unlikely that pterosaurs would have been able to generate the energy needed to fly.

Second, there is a limit to the weight of animals that can be kept airborne by powered flight. Pterosaurs that were as large as a giraffe were probably so heavy that they would not have been able to flap their wings fast enough to stay aloft for any length of time.

Third, all animals with powered flight are able to take off from the ground. For example, birds take off by jumping from their legs or running to gain speed and then jumping. But these methods would not have worked for large pterosaurs. Large pterosaurs would have needed big, powerful muscles in their back legs to launch themselves into the air, and we know from fossilized bones that their back leg muscles were too small and weak to allow the pterosaurs to run fast enough or jump high enough to launch themselves into the air.


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