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Quetzalcoatlus (pronounced KET-sal-koh-AHT-lus) was a giant pterosaur from the late Cretaceous period, and the largest flying animal ever.
Quetzalcoatlus wingspan was just under 36 feet wide (10.96 m). It had hollow bones, was lightly built, and had a small body. Even though it was very big, it probably weighed only about 300 pounds (135 kg). It had toothless jaws and a long, thin beak. The neck was 10 feet (3 m) long. The legs were over 7 feet (2.1 m) in length, as was the long head.
Quetzalcoatlus had a large brain and big eyes (it probably had good eyesight). Fur-like fuzz (modified scales) may have covered its body. A lightweight, bony crest on the head may have been a sexual characteristic. It used to be thought that the crest acted as a rudder for flying, but this was probably not the case.
A leathery membrane covered Quetzalcoatlus wings. This thin but tough membrane stretched between its body, the top of its legs and its elongated fourth fingers, forming the structure of the wing. Claws protruded from the other fingers. Quetzalcoatlus probably relied on updrafts (rising warm air) and breezes to help it fly.
Quetzalcoatlus lived during the late Cretaceous period and died out about 65 million years ago, during the K-T mass extinction.
Quetzalcoatlus was a carnivore, probably skimming the water to find prey. It lived inland from the sea, near fresh-water ponds (so its diet was not primarily sea fishes and marine mollusks like other pterosaurs). It probably ate arthropods (like early crayfish) and dying animals. It probably hunted its prey by gliding toward the water and swooping up its meals. It filtered its food through its long, pointed, toothless jaws. Quetzalcoatlus must have had good eyesight in order to spot meals from the air.
Douglas A. Lawson (who was then a geology graduate student at the University of Texas, Austin) found the first Quetzalcoatlus fossil in Big Bend National Park, Texas, USA, in 1971. Lawson named Quetzalcoatlus 1975. Other smaller specimens have been found.
24 inches long
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