Friday, 8 July 2011

The pterosaur head crest investigated

There have been many discussions and proposals about the function of the pterosaur head crest.  They have ranged from display and sexual dimorphism to stability when dipping to feed in water and so on...  Brian Roberts and Rick Lind of the University of Florida and Sankar Chatterjee of Texas Tech University have recently published work that suggests another option for the crest.

They have designed an aircraft with a variable position tail fin on the nose.  This has been found to improve the efficiency of turning in flight.  Such an aerodynamic option would be advantageous to pterosaurs in positioning themselves to feed whilst in flight.  This option seems a sensible and practical explanation for the nature of the head crest as an aerodynamic feature associated with feeding.  Biologically and in an evolutionary context, this is the best explanation I have heard to date.

Brian Roberts, et al., 2011, Flight dynamics of a pterosaur-inspired aircraft utilizing a variable-placement vertical tail. Bioinspiration & Biomimetics 6. 026010. 11pp. - "By morphing and repositioning a small aircraft's vertical tail to resemble the cranial crest of a pterosaur, researchers have shown that the aircraft's turn radius can be reduced by 14%. The ability to make sharper turns is especially important for small aircraft that operate in urban environments and in the presence of obstacles."