Unlike modern birds, which remain under the care of their parents until they learn to fly, ancient pterosaurs could fly shortly after birth.
The first vertebrates to truly learn to fly were the pterosaurs, which looked like a cross between lizards and birds. They were also the largest animals ever to fly into the air: the wingspan of the quetzalcoatl pterosaurs may have reached 15 meters. At the same time, they could, apparently, fly from birth, without requiring training, like birds. This is the conclusion reached by the authors of an article published in Scientific Reports.
It is still not completely clear whether newborn pterosaurs could fly actively, flapping their wings, or just hover, remaining dependent on their parents until they get stronger. However, more and more data point to the first option. Evidence of active flight can be found in sufficiently strong bones, muscle mass that can move wings, and traces of the keratin structures of feathers. British paleontologists led by Darren Naish of the University of Southampton have addressed the first point.
The authors examined the previously found remains of embryos, newborn and adult pterosaurs of the species Pterodaustro guinazui and Sinopterus dongi. They evaluated the size of the wings and their bones, checking what kind of load they can withstand. Particular attention was paid to the humerus, which takes on a considerable part of the load. Its good development is absolutely essential in order to take off on its own.
Much to the surprise of scientists, this bone in newborn pterosaurs was even more developed than in adults. Compared to their body size, their wings were shorter and wider, which may indicate good maneuvering ability in flight.
Apparently, small pterosaurs rose into the air very early - both hiding from predators and hunting small prey on their own. The authors of the work note that such an early flight is unknown among modern birds, with the only exception of exotic maleo - very unusual feathered inhabitants of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.