New models for the wing extension in pterosaurs

Edina Prondvai*, David W. E. Hone

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)

12 Citations (Scopus)


All powered flying animals have to face the same energetic problems: operating the wings during steady flight with muscles that require constant energy input and neural control to work. Accordingly the extant flying vertebrates have apparently found very similar solutions to parts of these issues - the biomechanical automatism built in their skeletal, muscular and connective tissue system. Based on these extant analogues (birds and bats) two new models are presented here for the mechanism of the distal wing extension in pterosaurs, an extinct group of flying vertebrates. The elongate fourth finger which solely supported their extensive flight membrane was a long lever arm that experienced significant loads and for which a reduction in muscle mass through automatisation would have been strongly beneficial. In the first model we hypothesize the presence of a propatagial ligament or ligamentous system which, as a result of the elbow extension, automatically performs and maintains the extension of the wing finger during flight and prohibits the hyperextension of the elbow. The second model has a co-operating bird-like propatagial ligamentous system and bat-like tendinous extensor muscle system on the forearm of the hypothetical pterosaur. Both models provide strong benefits to an animal with powered flight: (1) reduction of muscles and weight in the distal wing; (2) prevention of hyper extension of the elbow against drag; (3) automating wing extension and thereby reducing metabolic costs required to operate the pterosaurian locomotor apparatus. These models, although hypothetical, fit with the existing fossil evidence and lay down a basis for further biomechanical and/or aerodynamical investigations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)237-254
Number of pages18
JournalHistorical Biology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • pterosaur
  • wing extension
  • automatism
  • biomechanics

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