The largest living bird that can fly is the royal albatross. It has a wingspan measuring over 11 feet, tip to tip. In other words, its wingspan is longer than two average humans standing on top of each other. However, the royal albatross is far from the biggest organism ever to fly. That title has a few contenders.
Meganeuropsis is a genus of extinct insects that lived 290 million years ago. It superficially resembles modern dragonflies, with long slender bodies, a bulbous head, and two pairs of wings.
However, what sets it apart from its modern-day relatives is its size. It had a wingspan measuring in over 28 inches and a total body length of 17 inches. This makes it the largest insect ever to fly. Fossil evidence also showcased large mandibles and sturdy, spiny legs. This suggests that this organism was a predator.
Meganeuropsis was a gigantic insect, indeed. However, it is completely dwarfed by the Argentavis – a huge, extinct bird of prey that lived 5.3 million years ago. According to fossil evidence, it had a wingspan measuring between 16 to 21 feet, tip to tip. That means its wingspan is on par with the height of an average giraffe. When standing upright, Argentavis would have been as tall as the average human (around 5ft or more).
It was so big that no carnivorous animals during that period could prey upon it. Hence, research shows that the mortality rate from predation was quite low. Death would have probably occurred only due to old age or accidents.
Though Argentavis was the largest bird to fly, it was far from the largest flying organism. That title is held by the Quetzalcoatlus, an extinct flying reptile with a minimum wingspan of 36 feet. However, more recent fossil evidence suggests that estimate could be as high as 52 feet. This makes Quetzalcoatlus larger than a small plane – a true giant of the skies. It is characterized by a very long neck, a huge beak and a large crest on top of its head.
On the ground, Quetzalcoatlus measured 9.1 feet at the shoulders when standing upright. It was quadrupedal, meaning that it walked on all fours. Biologists have speculated that its feeding behaviour is similar to terrestrial stalkers, hunting small vertebrates and fishes from shallow streams.
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