Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The World's Largest Flying Animals

If you’ve ever been to the airport and have seen or taken a trip in a jumbo jet, it can seem amazing that these planes can even get off the ground. Weighing as much as half a million pounds, it takes massive amounts of thrust to get these behemoths into the air. Nature has provided its own flying giants throughout history, and here are a few of the largest.

Wandering Albatross. Photo: Mila Zinkova
The wandering albatross has the largest wingspan of any living bird. When fully extended its wings can stretch an amazing 12 feet and some birds have reportedly been spotted with 17 foot wingspans, though this is unverified. Although they weigh nearly 30 pounds, the wandering albatross can soar for several hours on a single wing beat.

Argentavis magnificens illustration by Stanton F. Fink
 As large as the wandering albatross is, it is dwarfed by the largest known bird of all time, Argentavis magnificens. Also called the Giant Teratorn, Argentavis lived during the late Miocene period about six million years ago and had an estimated wingspan of 23 feet! Though little is known about the behavior of this ancient bird, paleontologists estimate that it weighed over 150lbs and was most likely a scavenger; perhaps a distant relative to today’s giant vultures.

Illustration of Quetzalcoatlus by Mark Witton & Darren Naish
 Long before these giant birds ever took to the sky a pterosaur called Quetzalcoatlus that existed during the late cretaceous period set the record (as far as we know) for the largest flying animal ever. Though scientists have not come to complete agreement on the dinosaur’s exact wingspan, estimates from fossils collected have it between 33 and 52 feet; larger than many planes. Quetzalcoatlus had an extremely long neck and when standing on the ground could easily look eye-to-eye with a giraffe. Though it is unproven, it is estimated by some that Quetzalcoatlus could fly at 80 mile per hour for up to 10 days at a time!

Quetzalcoatlus Skeleton

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