Most flying animals, like birds or bats, have to learn how to use their wings. But that may not have been the case for the pterodactyl, a new study suggests.
Remarkably, the flying lizards — not a dinosaur, but a closely-related pterosaur — may have been born with the ability to fly, not needing to acquire the skill like we need to learn to walk. This innate ability is shared by “no other living vertebrates today, or in the history of the fossil record,” Phys.org reports. Notably, baby pterodactyls, or “flaplings,” are not thought to have relied on the care of their parents after hatching — which means that flying could have been a life-saving mechanism to help them avoid predators and find food and shelter.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, contradicts the previously prevailing theory that pterodactyls, like any other flying vertebrate, learned to fly once they’d almost reached their full adult size. Flying while still young can be incredibly dangerous — in fact, many pterodactyls died before reaching adulthood — but for those who survived, the benefits far outweighed the risks.
The way that pterodactyls flew ought to be “impossible,” said David Unwin, the study’s lead author and a paleobiologist specializing in pterodactyls. “But they didn’t know this, so they did it anyway.”