An extinct reptile with a massive wingspan leapt 8 feet in the air to take off

The pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus had a wingspan of up to 40 feet (12 meters), and it took scientists 50 years to discover how such a large animal could fly.

(CNN)The bones of an extinct reptile tell a story of how this ancient creature took an 8-foot leap of faith in the air to take flight, new research has revealed.

The pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus, the largest known flying animal that ever lived, boasted a 40-foot (12-meter) wingspan that would allow it to soar through the sky, according to a research collection published Wednesday by the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.
Scientists were puzzled for decades at how such a large creature could fly, said coauthor Matthew Brown, director of vertebrate paleontology collections at The University of Texas in Austin.
    After years of research, Brown's team discovered Quetzalcoatlus likely flew by launching itself 8 feet (2.4 meters) in the air.
      It took nearly 50 years between the time the bones were discovered in Big Bend National Park in Brewster County, Texas, and when scientists could determine how the creature flew. Brown attributes that to the painstakingly slow process of unearthing the bones.
      Like many other flying species during that time, this pterosaur had bones that were hollow to aid in flight, Brown said.
      "You have these sort of potato chip-like bones preserved in very hard rock, and you've got to remove the bones from the rock without destroying them," he said.
        The Field Museum in Chicago has a life-size pterosaur on display.

        Two new species are discovered

        Over the last half century, two new smaller species of pterosaurs were discovered in the national park as well.
        At first, the scientists weren't sure if the animals were juvenile versions of the Quetzalcoatlus or a different species altogether.
        The researchers took precise measurements of the fossils and ran them through a computer algorithm. If they didn't come back as near matches to the other animal, it was mostly likely another species, Brown said.
        The smaller of the two new species has a blunt beak while the larger species has a long, thin, beak that comes to a point.
        The animals lived in a forest oasis over 70 million years ago in what is now Texas, which was home to many bodies of water.
        The larger Quetzalcoatlus would have likely used its narrow beak to forage for crabs and worms along the water, according to the research collection. This reptile species also tended to hunt alone.