David Attenborough Takes On Flying Monsters

National Geographic is proud to bring you the new film Flying Monsters 3D, opening in North America on October 7th. This cutting-edge film profiles the extraordinary creatures that soared the skies some 220 million years ago: pterosaurs.

Join Sir David Attenborough, writer and narrator of the film, for a LIVE interview on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation: Science Friday” today, September 30 at 2 pm ET. Attenborough and host Ira Flatow will discuss the North American launch of “Flying Monsters 3D,” some of the recent findings surrounding pterosaurs, and Sir David’s illustrious career.

Tune in live via local NPR stations or online at: http://www.npr.org/audiohelp/progstream.html

The interview will also be available for download afterwards at: http://www.sciencefriday.com/audio/scifriaudio.xml

Attenborough also recently spoke to a group of reporters about the project. Here’s what we learned from the award-winning natural history broadcaster:

Sir David Attenborough, writer and host of "Flying Monsters 3D." Photograph courtesy Atlantic Productions

What are pterosaurs?

Pterosaurs were the first backboned animals that could fly, says Attenborough. They could have up to a 40-foot wingspan and be “as large as a giraffe.” Originally reptiles (the name means “winged lizard”), these creatures took flight when dinosaurs were already well established on Earth.

How can we know what pterosaurs looked like?

“The amount of fossils that have been found from pterosaurs can fill the back of a small van,” says Attenborough. That’s not much to go on, but through intensive research and collaboration with experts, the filmmakers were able to determine the likely skin color and function of various body parts. Pterosaurs had brightly colored skin, probably a drawing card during courtship.

Are pterosaurs similar to birds?

They do share some behavioral similarities, such as forming partnerships and living in close colonies. But pterosaurs did not have feathers or wingbeats like modern birds. Some species of the pterosaur had a membrane between their legs to increase the surface of their wingspan, helping them soar.

What caused pterosaurs to die out?


No one knows for sure, but Attenborough thinks the rise of birds may have contributed to pterosaurs’ extinction in the late Cretaceous period. “The birds and pterosaurs actually overlapped in time. When birds came to be, they could run around on the ground much more easily than the pterosaur, getting to food quicker,” he says.


See more Flying Monsters for yourself in this gallery of photos from the film.



–Erin Durkin

[Original Post September 21, 2011. Updated September 30, 2011]

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