WASHINGTON: Azhdarchid pterosaurs were massive flying reptiles that soared into the sky in the age of the dinosaurs, using their long accounts to select their prey for fish and other rival animals.
One of the most intriguing things about them was the extreme length of the neck – which is estimated at up to three meters (10 feet), which is longer than a giraffe and raised questions about how animals can withstand its weight without cracking.
Studying well-preserved vertebrate specimens excavated from Morocco, a team of scientists believes they have the answer: a complex set of extremely light yet load-bearing spokes within bones.
Cariad Williams, the first author of a new paper to appear in iScience, said the team had the idea that there was a sophisticated internal structure inside the spine.
They sent samples to CT and “we just couldn’t believe what we found – it’s one of the unique structures we’ve ever seen,” said a doctoral student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Campania.
There is no known equivalent in the animal kingdom, whether modern or extinct, and “I’m just surprised no one has found it before,” Williams added. The neural tube that carries nerves through the posterior bone is located in the center. It connects to the outer walls of the vertebrae by means of fine bones called trabeculae, which are radially spaced and cross over each other, just like the spokes of a bicycle.
These fine bones also extend up and down the length of the vertebrae in a spiral arrangement, adding extra strength.
The team then collaborated with biomechanical engineers whose calculations suggest that only 50 leg-like bones increased the amount of weight the animals could carry by 90 percent.
Published in Zora, April 15, 2021