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How Fast Can A Pteranodon Fly? The Surprising Speeds

Pteranodons are a famous dinosaur species because of their ability to fly. Flying is an excellent adaptation to hunt prey and deter predators. Also, it is one of the means that organisms can travel and spread through places. It is one of the significant factors why birds are successful. Like me, you might also be curious about the speed at which flying pterosaurs such as pteranodons can reach.

How fast can a pteranodon fly? Pteranodon belongs to flying reptiles together with the pterodactyls. The species with the largest wingspan, around 10 to 11 meters, can fly as fast as 80mph. It is an incredible speed for an organism with a large body.

Through time, the curiosity to know the speed of Pteranodon on air has arisen. It has an implication on the aerial habit they exhibited in the past that can also be one way to look at the modern-day birds’ ability to fly. In this article, I will share how fast a pteranodon flies, its characteristics that contribute to flight, and lastly, how it is compared to modern-day birds. 

How Fast Could a Pterodactyl Fly and What Is A Pterodactyl’s Wingspan

Pterodactyl refers to winged reptiles under order Pterosauria. They are not directly dinosaurs but are close relatives. One of their best assets is their wings that can expand to enormous wingspan sizes. Here are some facts about the pterodactyls’ wingspan. (Source)

Pterodactyls Wingspan as the Best Asset

Pterodactyl is one of the few flying reptiles in the Late Triassic period. It is a predator and a greedy one because it scoops its prey from above, of course, with the aid of its gigantic wings and toothed mouth. A pterodactyl’s wingspan can range from half to three meters but depending on the species.

Many pterodactyls were small in size, but those large species can exceed a nine-meter wingspan. Pterosaurs can reach these large wingspans because as early as they are born, they already can fly, and this would have developed more of their flight muscles and prepared their body for flight. 

How-fast-can-a-pteranodon-fly-AdventureDinosaurs

One of the pterodactyloid pterosaurs with the largest wingspan of 36 feet or 10.9 meters was Quetzalcoatlus northropi. In fact, it has been said to be the largest flying animal that ever existed. However, due to a lack of evidence and means to study this animal in detail, no accurate mass estimate can be concluded. Pterodactyls live together with other dinosaur species, and they also went extinct around the same time. 

Other Features That Contributes to Pterodactyl’s Flight

The ability to fly is not just solely attributed to the wingspan but also the flight bones and muscles possessed by the organism. Pterosaurs used their forelimbs to fly. Their long, tapering wings descended from the same area of the body that our arms do.

Pterosaurs‘ arm and hand bones extended as they adapted for flight, and the bones of one finger became incredibly long. These bones, like the sail on a ship, supported the wing surface. They also possess powerful muscles for flight that they can also use for walking on land. 

The Aerial Speed of Pterosaurs

The initial thoughts of researchers regarding the flying speed of such a gigantic dinosaur were inversely proportional. They thought that it would be pretty hard for a heavy-bodied organism to fly due to the need for excellent body support. To answer this, they experimented using computer modeling integrating wingspan and aerodynamic abilities. They use the giant pterosaur recorded, which is the  Quetzalcoatlus northropi.

The results showed that their initial hypothesis was wrong. Despite the massive weight of this flying reptile, it can fly at a speed of a maximum of 80 miles an hour. This speed is comparable to the fastest speed a lion can run on land. However, it is far from almost 200 miles per hour by the fastest bird, the Peregrine falcon. (Source)

Another pterosaur is the Pteranodon, with a wingspan of approximately six to seven meters. What’s unique about this species is that despite having a relatively large wingspan and compared to the heavy pterosaurs, its body mass is relatively low. 

YouTube Video About Test Flying the World’s Only Full-Size Pterosaur

YouTube video by Casey Putsch who creates a unique way of testing how a pterosaur might fly including speed and glide – AdventureDinosaurs

How Far Can A Pterodactyl Fly?

Indeed pterosaurs can fly at a considerable speed; another thing we should look at is the distance they can go with their large bodies. 

The Distance A Pterodactyl Can Go In Air

It might be weird to witness a pterodactyl flying nowadays being as large as airplanes. Well, similar to planes, this species can go reasonable distances. 

According to National Geographic, giant pterosaurs can even fly non-stop, covering a distance of 10,000 miles. At the same time, Pteranodons can fly as high as 15,000 altitudes and an average range of 11,000 miles. 

A fascinating fact is that these species can fly for 7-10 days without having a pit stop, implying that they have enough stamina for this lifestyle. This ability enables them to roam around and efficiently hunt for prey. 

 The Relationship of Intelligence and Flight

A measure that scientists look into to determine an organism’s intelligence, including extinct animals, is the Encephalization Quotient or simply the relative size of the brain compared to the body. 

Though there has been a debate over the years of its applicability to non-mammalian species, it is the safest way to assume intelligence. A higher EQ can be equated to higher intelligence among other groups. 

Compared to other extinct and extant archosaur groups, pterosaurs have higher EQ. This higher EQ has something to do with their ability to fly. The flight could have been a significant product of intelligence or vice versa because it requires neuromuscular development. 

Also, since they are known predators, they could have higher cognitive functions than those that are not predators. These cognitive abilities include strategies to capture prey. (Source)

Pterosaurs, unlike birds, exhibit maternal care, which would also demonstrate that they have at least a good thinking ability to do this efficiently. 

Comparison of Possible Pterodactyl Flight Speeds versus Modern-Day Birds

Both birds and pterodactyl can fly, and if we compare their speed, there will always be a winner. 

Modern Day Birds Flight Speed

The fastest speed recorded for modern birds is around 180-240 miles per hour. The Peregrine falcon got this title. It has a very agile body fitted for flight. It is not only the fastest bird but also the fastest animal that exists on Earth today. It is followed by the Golden eagle and Gyrfalcon that can fly at around 130-200 mph. 

It can be observed that most birds with fast speeds belong to the falcon and eagle families. Well, this is not uncommon since their wings and body are well-engineered for flight and also hunting. 

A Comparison of Bird and Pterodactyl’s Flight

Pterodactyls are way larger than modern-day birds, and it might be a limitation to reach a speed at par with a Peregrine Falcon. Despite this, having the ability to fly is a good habitat adaptation. 

Although there is still a gap of when and how exactly Pterosaurs evolved to fly, paleontologists are still doing their best to find the answers. Just like birds, pterosaurs also have flightless species that specialize in living on land and aquatic habitats. (Source)

A significant difference between the two, aside from their speed and size, is that Pterodactyls can already fly right after birth which is not seen in birds or other flying vertebrates. It is both an advantage and a disadvantage. Most were able to fly, and this was a suitable survival mechanism; however, some flaplings (baby pterodactyls) also had their fair share leading to death because of flight accidents. 

Amidst the comparison of birds and Pterosaurs, remember that they are not related since Pterosaurs are reptiles, and the ancestors of birds are feathered dinosaurs on land. 

Conclusion

The body size of Pterosaurs, including Pteranodon and Pterodactyl, did not hinder these species from flying. Not just simple flying but flying at a reasonable speed. A good flying ability and great stamina for this habit is indeed a significant advantage over the others. This information is relevant to the limited information we had on the evolution of flight in the early animals, including these flying reptiles and examining how the flight in modern-day birds possibly came about. Well, paleontologists still have many questions, but examining them is not for the faint of heart.