STL Science Center

STL Science Center

05 April 2012

The Wing King

Gliding over South Bank
Quetzalcoatlus has been everywhere we have looked this past week. Soaring through coloring pages, gliding across television screens in cartoon and serious form, diving as models to test aerodynamics, and even loping curiously across the plains as statues and toys. They have been used to inspire military programs, decorate the Royal Society's 350th Anniversary, and even served as the basis for a Smithsonian based project. This entry could last all day if I shared all of the popular culture links to Quetzalcoatlus. The question then becomes, what have we not mentioned even once this entire week that would be completely new and exciting information? What can we discuss today that has not been discussed yet? What are we missing? A history lesson.

You don't want to see him when he's angry!
Perhaps a history lesson is not exactly exciting, but if you like history this will be enjoyable. Quetzalcoatlus, for those that do not know, was not a name snatched out of the air and does not mean anything excitingly funny like "ugly faced bat creature" or anything of that nature. Quetzalcoatlus is simply a name that honors another reptile based ancient of southern North America. The name actually comes from the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl whose name means, in Nahuatl, Feathered Serpent. The various depictions of Quetzalcoatl show that, generally speaking, the god had the face of a dragon, but also had arms and legs. In true Aztec fashion he was always decked out in a ton of accessories that showed he was ready to fight, protect, feed hummingbirds, charm snakes, or give you the middle finger. Quetzalcoatl was too cool to care what puny mortals thought of him because he had an important job to do; he was the boundary and protector of the boundary between earth and sky (kind of like some giant flying reptile that could also walk on land). Quetzalcoatl was also a creation force, the wind, a year (1519 or One Reed) that just happened to see Cortes land in Mexico- who was taken as Quetzalcoatl in human form according to legend/history- and start his pummeling of the native Aztecs, and an official priestly title.

I wasn't lying.
He also possessed the ability to turn into a giant feathered serpent and eat men. Whole. No chewing involved. While still wearing some of his eccentric "god wear." There are many interpretations in Aztec literature, yes it does still exist, as well as in Western literature including missives by the Latter Day Saints. The Mormons compared Quetzalcoatl to Christ and said they are the same. That is an interesting standpoint, and certainly not one I am about to refute, the reason why being that I am not overly convicted to any single religious belief and also, I have a zanier theory for you right here; not that I'm calling Mormons zany. Something to think on the rest of the day: What if a few animals, and this has been put forth before, managed to survive the last great extinction before man, just an ever dwindling number of dinosaurs or pterosaurs and they just happened to survive just long enough for the earliest settlers to thrust into the Americas came along? Wouldn't it make some sense that some of these animals may have just happened to adopt more feathering or bristling, just maybe, to survive the ice age but were still very slowly over many millions of years, dying out and may have looked like feathered serpents? Ponder that crazy what if scenario!

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