Museum Frankfurt


Quetzalcoatlus northropi

Suborder: Pterodactyloidae
Family: Azhdarchidae
Diet: probably fish
Wingspan: approx. 11 metres
Age: 70 million years (Upper Cretaceous)
Fossil site: Texas (USA)
at Senckenberg: cast (Original at the University of Texas, Austin/USA)

The reconstruction of the Quetzalcoatlus in the Senckenberg Museum is based on original specimens, which are in the collections of the University of Texas at Austin, USA. The fossils found are only a number of neck vertebrae, the remains of a leg bone, skull fragments, and a nearly complete flying arm. This may sound like very little, but together with other skeletal remains, which come from young animals, a fairly accurate picture of the skeletal anatomy of the Quetzalcoatlus can be reconstructed. The unpronounceable name of this Pterosaur genus is derived from the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl – "Feathered Serpent". It obtained the species name "Northropi" in honour of the brilliant aircraft designer, John K. Northrop.

Quetzalcoatlus was probably a soarer, because the breast musculature necessary for active flight, must otherwise have reached enormous proportions. Despite its lightweight construction and the hollow, air-filled bones, a body weight of at least 75 kg must be assumed. Calculations showed that to be able to fly actively with so much weight, it would require in principle a breast muscle cross-section of 1 m diameter. For this, the body weight could no longer remain at 75 kg, making an even vaster muscle mass necessary, which would in turn increase the total weight, and so on. If the animal could only soar, it was probably not able to actively launch itself. It is therefore assumed that the animal landed only rarely and then only on raised areas, such as high cliffs, where it would be easy to launch itself again. For the albatross, which weigh less than 10 kg, it is already very difficult start flying. Accordingly, they spend about 90% of their lives in the air. Therefore, we assume that Quetzalcoatlus also remained almost continuously aloft, and took its food in flight. It remains unclear, what its prey might have been. It is possible that it fished, gliding just above the water and taking fish from the sea with its big toothless beak. However, the fossil bones were not found in marine sediments, but rather on the mainland.
Although knowledge about Pterosaurs has increased greatly in recent years, but much still remains a mystery up to the present.

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