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THE AERODYNAMICS OF THE BRITISH LATE TRIASSIC KUEHNEOSAURIDAE
The Kuehneosauridae (Late Triassic, Britain, USA) had remarkable adaptations, most notably their elongate mid-dorsal ribs that were presumably covered with a skin membrane in life. These lateral ‘wings’ have always been linked with some form of gliding adaptation, but quantitative studies have been limited. Here, we provide a thorough aerodynamic analysis of both genera of British kuehneosaurids based on theory and on experiments with life-sized models in a wind tunnel. Of the two genera, Kuehneosuchus, with elongate ‘wings’, was a glider, and Kuehneosaurus, with much shorter ‘wings’, was a parachutist. Kuehneosuchus most probably had highly cambered wings and no additional skin membranes on hands or feet, nor did it have a cruropatagium. Lappets on the hyoid apparatus, as seen in Draco, were probably present to enhance pitch control. Kuehneosuchus was capable of gliding at angles (h) between 13 and 16 degrees, at speeds between 7 and 9 m⁄ s, and was probably very manoeuvrable when airborne. Kuehneosaurus was capable of parachuting (h > 45 degrees) at speeds between 10 and 12 m⁄ s. It is unclear whether the British kuehneosaurid material represents two genera, as assumed here, two species of one genus, or sexual dimorphs of a single species, where the gliding Kuehneosuchus was the male, which used its gliding and perhaps highly coloured ‘wings’ to display to the parachuting Kuehneosaurus.
Wind-tunnel set-up of the high-camber model of Kuehneosuchus. Note that the model is suspended upside-down and that there is a vertical offset of the attachment structure from the centre of the body.