by Matthew Cobb
As is well known, Professor Ceiling Cat can’t be doing with Tw*tter. Here’s yet another example of why he’s wrong, and should learn that that micro-bl*gging site is not just for knowing what celebrities had for breakfast or for launching cyber lynch mobs.
I was listening to Radio 4′s ‘Tweet of the Day’ this morning at 05:58. It featured the bizarre call of the Great Bustard (it sounds roughly like someone blowing their nose and farting at the same time). The Great Bustard is a large bird that was hunted to extinction in the UK, but has recently been reintroduced and is now successfully breeding. Chris Packham, who did the commentary, claimed that at 16 kg the Great Bustard is one of the heaviest extant flying birds.
This struck me – 16 kg isn’t much. Is this an absolute limit to flying? What about those pterosaurs – some of them were HUGE. How come they got so big and flying birds don’t? What’s the upper limit on the weight of a flying animal?
So I got out my iPad and tweeted @TetZoo aka Darren Naish, who knows about all things tetrapod. (I got the weight wrong. It was early in the morning. This caused some confusion, as you’ll see.)
The ‘different take-off’ caught my eye. I know there’s been a suggestion that pterosaurs lived on cliffs, so could simply soar without having to take off from the ground (the modern swift, hardly a chunky bird, can’t take off from the ground). But some pterosaurs would dive and eat fish – how did they take off from the sea?:
Then Mike Habib joined in and pointed out:
Then he asked the Big Question
Tommy Leung chipped in:
So, as in most interesting questions, the answer to ‘Why are there no large flying birds now’ appears to be ‘We don’t know’.
[JAC comment 2: I doubt this demonstrates that I’m wrong about Tw**ter. All that scientific brainpower results in the verdict that “we don’t know”?? They might as well have tw**ted what they had for breakfast!]
Links: Dave and Mike’s piece on how pterosaurs took off, the PLoS One paper from Mark Witton and Mike Habib, looking at whether giant pterosaurs could fly, cited by Darren.