London, August 19 (ANI): A set of Pterosaur footprints unearthed in France is the first to show one of the winged reptiles coming into land - and suggests they did so in much the same way as most modern birds.
While dinosaurs wandered the lands of the Mesozoic era, their relatives the pterosaurs occupied the skies.
The flying reptiles remain something of a palaeontological puzzle. Some even question whether the largest pterosaurs could fly at all.
According to a report in New Scientist, an exceptional set of footprints preserved in 150-million-year-old rock near Crayssac in south-west France holds some answers to pterosaur behaviour.
"They record the moment a small pterosaur came into land," said Kevin Padian at the University of California, Berkeley.
Padian's team said that the prints are similar to those produced by a landing bird.
Although most pterosaur tracks show the animals walking on all fours, the first prints in the newly discovered tracks are of the rear limbs only.
That's because the pterosaur used its wings to "stall" as birds do, says the team, so that the animal's body swung up from a horizontal flight position to near vertical, enabling it to land gently on its hind feet, according to the team.
"The smaller ones, like the smallest birds, are all good flappers, so they (could) 'flap-stall' to land," said Padian.
Larger pterosaurs might have stalled by simply holding their wings against the airflow. Either way, the pterosaurs would have needed sophisticated neural control on a par with modern birds, according to the researchers.
After the flap stall, the tracks show the animal stabilised itself with its arms, as it hopped a little way forward before it began to walk away on all four limbs.
According to David Martill, a pterosaur specialist at the University of Portsmouth, UK, although the tracks record a "small moment, perhaps no more than three seconds, in the life of a pterosaur", they offer a real insight into the lives of the ancient animals.
Earlier this year, Michael Habib at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, suggested that the largest pterosaurs took flight by using all four limbs to leap into the air - a technique similar to that used by some bats but quite unlike the take-off behaviour of modern birds.
Padian said that Habib's theory may have been possible.
"On the other hand, pterosaurs seem perfectly capable of standing on their back legs, so a two-legged (bird-style) take-off, whether from a standing pose or running, seems equally plausible - depending on the pterosaur," he said. (ANI)