February 17, 2010
Paleontologists have long noted that pterosaur wings were like sails, being membranes that could flex in either direction. The resemblance may prove to have been more than passing: preliminary research suggests the piscivorous reptiles sailed the seas as well as the skies during their extended reign from 220 million to 65 million years ago.
Sankar Chatterjee, a paleontologist at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, and three colleagues (one an aeronautical engineer) studied fossils of the crow-size pterosaur Tapejara wellnhoferi. They reconstructed the animal and made a series of models to examine its range of motion, then analyzed its aero- and hydrodynamics with a biomechanical computer simulation.