Today’s biggest flier, the royal albatross, wouldn’t have looked so big compared to Pelagornis sandersi, a giant flying seabird that lived some 25 million years ago and belonged to a family of now-extinct “toothed” birds. (Nat Geo Kids)
Teachers, scroll all the way down for a short list of key resources in our “Teachers’ Toolkit.”
- The name of the world’s biggest flying bird is Pelagornis sandersi. “Pelagornis” simply means “pelagic” or “pelagic bird.” (“The most unimaginative name ever applied to a fossil,” (p. 197) according to the world’s leading avian (bird) paleontologist.) What do you think “sandersi” means? Why do you think scientists gave the bird that name?
- Sandersi simply honors Albert Sanders of the Charleston Museum, who uncovered the skull, wing, and leg bones of the bird in South Carolina in 1983.
- Biologists and paleontologists bestow such honors all the time! Angelina Jolie is a spider! Lady Gaga is a fern! Queen Bey is fly!
- Click here to read about how another, even more ancient flier (Vectidraco daisymorrisae) was named after 9-year-old fossil hunter Daisy Morris. Great story.
- What type of creature would you want named after you? (Me? I hope there is some new species of kingfisher that could be named Ceryle susiqueue.)
- Vectidraco daisymorrisae was a pterosaur, a type of flying reptile related to dinosaurs. Read about these “Flying Monsters” here. Was Pelagornis sandersi a pterosaur?
- No! Pterosaurs lived millions of years before Pelagornis sandersi and other birds.
- Was Pelagornis sandersi as big as a pterosaur?
- No! Pterosaurs were much, much larger than Pelagornis sandersi. Pterosaurs, such as Hatzegopteryx and Quetzalcoatlus, had wingspans of more than 30 feet (9 meters). Click here to learn more about Quetzalcoatlus.
- Take a look at this gorgeous illustration of the skull of Pelagornis sandersi. Why do you think paleontologists say these birds have “pseudo-teeth” and not “teeth”? Pseudo means “almost, but not quite.”
- Those bony, pointed projections aren’t teeth—they don’t grow in, fall out, or rot away. The points are a part of the bird’s skull, what the illustrator of the drawing calls a “serrated jaw.”
- What do you think those jaws chomped into, 25 million years ago? (Hint: What do the seabirds of today eat?)
- Fish! Those pointy pseudoteeth probably helped the soaring giant hang on to the slippery, squirmy fish (or fishy cousins) of the Miocene.
Nat Geo collection: Flying Monsters 3D Education