Scientists from the University of Portsmouth have discovered the secret to the success of a prehistoric winged lizard, with a neck longer than a giraffe.
They wondered how giant pterosaurs could support their neck, whilst flying and carrying heavy prey.
New CT scans of fossils have uncovered a spoke-like structure inside the bone.
It's thought the discovery could help engineers to develop new thinner and stronger lightweight structures.
Prof Dave Martill, Professor of Palaeobiology, University of Portsmouth
Dave Martill, Professor of Palaeobiology, University of Portsmouth, says: "We found that not only are there spoked but they spiral around! They spiral this way and they spiral that way".
"You sort of realise that you're looking at something that, in engineering terms, is something very beautiful. and when you do the maths on it you suddenly realise that its absolutely fantastically efficient as well".
The intricate design demonstrates how these flying reptiles had evolved to support massive heads that often measured longer than 1.5 metres.
This ‘lightweight’ construction offered strength, without compromising the pterosaurs’ ability to fly.
These animals have ridiculously long necks, and in some species the fifth vertebra from the head is as long as the animal’s body. It makes a giraffe look perfectly normal. We wanted to know a bit about how this incredibly long neck functioned, as it seems to have very little mobility between each vertebra
First appeared on fossil records
Disappeared at the end of Cretaceous period
The team of palaeontologists realised they needed an expert in engineering help to understand more about what they’d discovered.
Analysis shows that as few as 50 of the ‘spokes’ in the pterosaur’s neck could lead to a 90 per cent increase in resistance to buckling.
It’s thought the intricate construction could now help engineers develop new longer, thinner and stronger lightweight structures.