How to Survive Being Kidnapped by the Taliban
Question: How were you captured by the Taliban?
Jere Van Dyke: I was—at the time it was February 16th—I was hiking in the mountains of Mohmand Agency in the tribal areas of Pakistan. My two bodyguards were in the lead. We were going single file. We were high in the mountains. We came to a valley. I was next. My interpreter was behind me. We'd been hiking about six hours. I looked up. I saw a movement of black behind a rock. I knew immediately that it was not a sheep, it was not a goat—that it was a black turban. The Taliban wear black turbans.
I froze. A man jumped over a rock shouting, “Kena, kena, kena” (get down, get down). He was carrying a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. He came running down the mountainside. Twelve other men (about) came running with him, spreading out a... who I assumed was the Taliban commander—black turban—was in the lead holding a walkie-talkie . All the men were armed with either Kalashnikovs or rocket-propelled grenade launchers. Soon, I was surrounded. I looked over, and I saw a man standing three feet away from me holding a rocket-propelled grenade launcher at my face. His eyes were cold, and gleaming, and dark. I looked over, and I saw that my two bodyguards were being disarmed. They had rifle butts that were being directed at them. My interpreter was surrounded. I knew that I was dead.
Question: Where were you taken after being captured?
Jere Van Dyk: They took me up deeper into the mountains, up onto a ridge. They sat me down, faced me West, and at that time I was still in shock so my back was straight and I just looked ahead, not sure what was going to happen. And then very slowly they took a black turban and began to blindfold me. So, when they finished blindfolding me they tied me, and we sat there very silently. I heard a rifle movement on my left, and I waited for the rifle or the knife. I thought of my family. I thought of my past.
I was there about five minutes. They picked me up, grabbed me by the shoulders, and they took us deeper into the mountains. Eventually we made our way downward. I fell a few times because I couldn't see; I was totally helpless. They put me in a car and drove for a couple of hours, pulled me out of the car, separated me from others, threw me back in the car. And then we began to climb in this car higher up in the mountains. It was a warm, Mediterranean day when we started, and by that night time three or four hours later, it was cold. I was very cold. Dogs were barking.
They pulled me out of the car, put my hands together, took me into what turned out to be a baked mud room deep in the mountains of Pakistan. It was a Taliban prison. I looked around. I was looking for blood on the walls to see if it was a torture chamber. I saw chains on the floor. It was about 12 feet by 12 feet. The roof was made of straw. But, initially, I was happy. And the reason I was happy is because when they took my turban off, or my blindfold off, I saw that I was not alone. That my interpreter was there, my two bodyguards were there. At the time, I still felt they were on my side.
At the very beginning, I was still trying to pretend that I was a foreigner. And then as we sat there, the first question they asked me was, “What is your name?” And then the second question was, “What is your father's name?” For a split second I stopped. I was almost... I wasn't happy, but I was pleasantly surprised. And I said... I am very deep in Pashtun culture. It shows that the most important question is, and always has been in Afghanistan, “Who is your grandfather? Who is your father?” Tribal lineage counts for everything.
Then, after they finished that initial interrogation, I said I just couldn't take it anymore. My language ability wasn't good enough, and I said, “I'm an American.” And so I felt free. I felt happy. I also knew that I was dead because as an American I would be considered a spy, and under Sharia, Islamic law, you kill a spy. Then, what happened was later that night they took out one of my bodyguards and brought him back, took out another bodyguard and brought him back. They were interrogating them, and then they took out my interpreter and brought him back.
And then when the Taliban finished, they went into another room where I think, I don't know, they were having dinner. We could hear them talking on the other side of the mud walls. And then our two jailers, the men who became our jailers, came in, both armed with Kalashnikov rifles. And they said to sit still, do not move, we'll take care of you. I didn't understand this at first because the dialect was so hard; it was a very deep mountain Pashtun dialect. And then my two bodyguards said, “If they start to torture us or kill us, we have to kill them.” And my first bodyguard said, “I'll take that one.” And the next bodyguard said, “I'll take him.”
And then I realized that not only was I a prisoner deep in the mountains of Pakistan, that I would have to kill or be killed. So it gradually became darker, and darker, and darker. So for the 45 days that we were in this dark cell, across which I could not see—it was 12 feet across, but I really couldn't see more than eight or nine feet—we were not allowed out unless about three minutes every night to go to a makeshift bathroom on the dirt floor outside. It became... it was a constant roller coaster.
Question: What was the scariest moment of your captivity?
Jere Van Dyk: The hardest point was the fourth night when they had the major interrogation. And the Taliban commander was smart, he was quick, he was extremely capable, I felt, ruthless. He sat across from me, sat on the floor... eyes like cat's eyes. The questions kept coming. “Why are you here? What was your goal? If you're a journalist, why do you have cameras? Who do you really represent?” On and on and on: bang, bang, bang, bang. After about two hours of this, he left. Then he walked back in, and this time when he walked back in, his back was straight. And behind him were three men in sunglasses, black turbans, army fatigue jackets, bandoliers of bullets, carrying rifles. And they stood behind me. I knew what was coming.
Then he took my camera, the small video camera that I had. With angry eyes, he thrust it at me. And he said, “How do I turn this on?” And I said to him in English, which he couldn't understand, “So, I'm going to help you film my own execution?” And at the beginning when I was first kidnapped, four days before in the mountains, I was in such shock that I didn't know really what was going to happen, so I sat up straight. This time, I was afraid and wanted to protect my neck. And so I kept looking down. It was so hard, so hard, to lift my back up. It was like lifting lead.
Finally, slowly, because I was thinking of my family, my father... and I wanted to not be a coward when I died—I wanted to die with dignity—and I knew that people around the world, and especially my family, would see this video on television, of me being beheaded. And it was—I learned later; I didn't think of it at the moment—exactly, almost to the day six years after Daniel Pearl had been kidnapped in Karachi. So I thought of Daniel Pearl. I thought of Nicholas Berg, and I was certain it would happen. I watched him out of the corner of my eye move the rifle barrel closer and touch my temple. And then I saw him put his hand in his vest. I knew what the knife was like. I had seen them butcher, other men butcher sheep and goats. I know what the knife would look like, and I waited for it to come in... kill me.
Question: What skills or internal resources did you rely on to survive?
Jere Van Dyk: What I realized was that the longer I was there, the more my muscles would atrophy. And I was constantly thinking how I could escape. It was so dark that I didn't know which way was Afghanistan, which way was Pakistan, or how to—if I were to sneak somehow get out the door—which way I would run. So I was trying to figure out, according to the vague light that I would see, if the sun was going this way or if the sun was setting that way, and I finally figured out that we were praying—because I either had to convert or die—that when we prayed, we would pray toward Mecca, toward Saudi Arabia. Therefore, I would have to go the opposite way.
So I was trying to figure out constantly how to escape. In order to stay mentally alert and to keep my muscles from atrophying so that when the time came and I had to run, and because as a younger man in high school and college and after college for a number of years I had run track—and run it very seriously—that I, which is why at my age I could hike in the mountains and keep up with men and do this because I was still fit. It was not just a way to keep my muscles from atrophying and to keep fit so that I could escape, it was also a way for me to meditate, also a way for me to calm down. And I found it was a tie to home. It was a tie to my youth. For me, very early in the morning after morning prayers, when men went back to bed and it was dark, and it was cold, I would do exercises. It kept me fit, it relaxed me, and then at the end I always made a point of—we had this small place in the corner where we could pour water to for ablutions for prayer, and I would pour cold water over myself to keep me tough and to try and keep clean.
Secondly, I found that in prison, unlike anywhere else in the world, there is nothing that you can escape to. There is no place you can go. You cannot escape into entertainment, to work, to a family, to anything. You are stuck with yourself, and you must confront yourself and your life constantly. And so what I would do is in order to escape from this, I would work with my interpreter on my language. And I would try to learn to write Pashto, which is very similar to Arabic. And so I would study as much as I could. I would become very tired at first because I didn't have reading glasses, it was very cold, and you're constantly afraid, and you can't see very well in the darkness. So it was like going to school for an hour... that's all I could do at a time. That helped.
Ultimately, what helped me, what gave me solace was because I was with Wahhabi, and Wahhabis are the strictest of Muslims, the vanguard if you will of Muslim warriors—Bin Laden is Wahhabi—I had to, as I mentioned, convert or die. But what they said was, “Once you have finished the formal prayer,” which we would do in Arabic, “and go through the motions of praying, when you're on your knees you can pray on your own. You can talk to God in your own way.” And so what I found was comfort in being able to pray for me, which is the God out of my youth. I grew up in a deeply separatist, quietist, today we call them fundamentalist. We were not political, so we were not fundamentalist Christian environment, which gave me—and gives me today—a psychological understanding of fundamentalism, which enabled me to talk with them on a certain level, which is one reason why I've been able to spend time with the Taliban, as with the Mujahadeen before. So I found a certain comfort in prayer, and I was praying to a god of light. I wasn't sure what the "god of light" meant, but that gave me peace. So it was those things that I went to: exercise, studying, and prayer. We hold onto hope, but in the absence of all of that, those are the three things I had.
Question: Why did the Taliban let you go?
Jere Van Dyk: I don't really know, ultimately, why I'm here today. When we were... the last day we were there, when the Taliban commander came in, sat down on the ground two feet away from me, stared at me, he said, “Congratulations on escaping death.” He said it too many times. I felt that someone above him had made the decision to release me. He said, “I made the decision.” But I didn't believe him because it was a constant roller-coaster. At times, they were very nice to me. We engaged in political discussions, we talked about what to do to young people who elope, he asked if in America we have water buffalo, if we have rivers, how do we bury people... numerous questions. We'd go on and on at night. They would tell me how they made opium or how heroin is made. We would talk about any number of things, about Al Qaeda, about the Taliban.
At the same time, they once threatened to cut out my kidneys and sell my body parts. And once when they did that, and I talked about—as I did often, but this time there was no way that I was going to stand there and allow that—I said, “We have to escape, and we have to do it tonight. And if we have to kill them, we do that. We have no choice. I cannot take this any more.” And it was that night when we went outside, one by one, to go to the bathroom that one of my bodyguards didn't stay three minutes, but about ten minutes. And then later the main jailer came to me and said... he told me what he would do to me if I tried to escape, which told me that I was alone... that my bodyguard had betrayed me. And increasingly, as time passed, my interpreter grew closer to my bodyguards and refused to interpret for me, and I realized... and I began to realize that maybe he was part of what became a betrayal, and that he was not with me, and that I was completely alone.
And this was harder, and even though I didn't feel at that moment that I would be killed, or every moment that I would be killed, every time that that door unbolted... they unbolted the door, and a man with a black turban stood there silhouetted in the shadows holding a Kalashnikov, I knew that he could take me outside just like that and kill me.
Recorded on June 29, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller
Several times during his 45 days in captivity, Van Dyk was sure his life was about to end. Exercise, studying, and prayer helped him keep his wits.
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How imagining the worst case scenario can help calm anxiety.
- Stoicism is the philosophy that nothing about the world is good or bad in itself, and that we have control over both our judgments and our reactions to things.
- It is hardest to control our reactions to the things that come unexpectedly.
- By meditating every day on the "worst case scenario," we can take the sting out of the worst that life can throw our way.
Are you a worrier? Do you imagine nightmare scenarios and then get worked up and anxious about them? Does your mind get caught in a horrible spiral of catastrophizing over even the smallest of things? Worrying, particularly imagining the worst case scenario, seems to be a natural part of being human and comes easily to a lot of us. It's awful, perhaps even dangerous, when we do it.
But, there might just be an ancient wisdom that can help. It involves reframing this attitude for the better, and it comes from Stoicism. It's called "premeditation," and it could be the most useful trick we can learn.
Broadly speaking, Stoicism is the philosophy of choosing your judgments. Stoics believe that there is nothing about the universe that can be called good or bad, valuable or valueless, in itself. It's we who add these values to things. As Shakespeare's Hamlet says, "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." Our minds color the things we encounter as being "good" or "bad," and given that we control our minds, we therefore have control over all of our negative feelings.
Put another way, Stoicism maintains that there's a gap between our experience of an event and our judgment of it. For instance, if someone calls you a smelly goat, you have an opportunity, however small and hard it might be, to pause and ask yourself, "How will I judge this?" What's more, you can even ask, "How will I respond?" We have power over which thoughts we entertain and the final say on our actions. Today, Stoicism has influenced and finds modern expression in the hugely effective "cognitive behavioral therapy."
Helping you practice StoicismCredit: Robyn Beck via Getty Images
One of the principal fathers of ancient Stoicism was the Roman statesmen, Seneca, who argued that the unexpected and unforeseen blows of life are the hardest to take control over. The shock of a misfortune can strip away the power we have to choose our reaction. For instance, being burglarized feels so horrible because we had felt so safe at home. A stomach ache, out of the blue, is harder than a stitch thirty minutes into a run. A sudden bang makes us jump, but a firework makes us smile. Fell swoops hurt more than known hardships.
What could possibly go wrong?
So, how can we resolve this? Seneca suggests a Stoic technique called "premeditatio malorum" or "premeditation." At the start of every day, we ought to take time to indulge our anxious and catastrophizing mind. We should "rehearse in the mind: exile, torture, war, shipwreck." We should meditate on the worst things that could happen: your partner will leave you, your boss will fire you, your house will burn down. Maybe, even, you'll die.
This might sound depressing, but the important thing is that we do not stop there.
Stoicism has influenced and finds modern expression in the hugely effective "cognitive behavioral therapy."
The Stoic also rehearses how they will react to these things as they come up. For instance, another Stoic (and Roman Emperor) Marcus Aurelius asks us to imagine all the mean, rude, selfish, and boorish people we'll come across today. Then, in our heads, we script how we'll respond when we meet them. We can shrug off their meanness, smile at their rudeness, and refuse to be "implicated in what is degrading." Thus prepared, we take control again of our reactions and behavior.
The Stoics cast themselves into the darkest and most desperate of conditions but then realize that they can and will endure. With premeditation, the Stoic is prepared and has the mental vigor necessary to take the blow on the chin and say, "Yep, l can deal with this."
Catastrophizing as a method of mental inoculation
Seneca wrote: "In times of peace, the soldier carries out maneuvers." This is also true of premeditation, which acts as the war room or training ground. The agonizing cut of the unexpected is blunted by preparedness. We can prepare the mind for whatever trials may come, in just the same way we can prepare the body for some endurance activity. The world can throw nothing as bad as that which our minds have already imagined.
Stoicism teaches us to embrace our worrying mind but to embrace it as a kind of inoculation. With a frown over breakfast, try to spend five minutes of your day deliberately catastrophizing. Get your anti-anxiety battle plan ready and then face the world.
A study on charity finds that reminding people how nice it feels to give yields better results than appealing to altruism.
- A study finds asking for donations by appealing to the donor's self-interest may result in more money than appealing to their better nature.
- Those who received an appeal to self-interest were both more likely to give and gave more than those in the control group.
- The effect was most pronounced for those who hadn't given before.
Even the best charities with the longest records of doing great fundraising work have to spend some time making sure that the next donation checks will keep coming in. One way to do this is by showing potential donors all the good things the charity did over the previous year. But there may be a better way.
A new study by researchers in the United States and Australia suggests that appealing to the benefits people will receive themselves after a donation nudges them to donate more money than appealing to the greater good.
How to get people to give away free money
The postcards that were sent to different study subjects. The one on the left highlighted benefits to the self, while the one on the right highlighted benefits to others.List et al. / Nature Human Behaviour
The study, published in Nature Human Behaviour, utilized the Pick.Click.Give program in Alaska. This program allows Alaska residents who qualify for dividends from the Alaska Permanent Fund, a yearly payment ranging from $800 to $2000 in recent years, to donate a portion of it to various in-state non-profit organizations.
The researchers randomly assigned households to either a control group or to receive a postcard in the mail encouraging them to donate a portion of their dividend to charity. That postcard could come in one of two forms, either highlighting the benefits to others or the benefits to themselves.
Those who got the postcard touting self-benefits were 6.6 percent more likely to give than those in the control group and gave 23 percent more on average. Those getting the benefits-to-others postcard were slightly more likely to give than those receiving no postcard, but their donations were no larger.
Additionally, the researchers were able to break the subject list down into a "warm list" of those who had given at least once before in the last two years and a "cold list" of those who had not. Those on the warm list, who were already giving, saw only minor increases in their likelihood to donate after getting a postcard in the mail compared to those on the cold list.
Additionally, the researchers found that warm-list subjects who received the self-interest postcard gave 11 percent more than warm-list subjects in the control group. Amazingly, among cold-list subjects, those who received a self-interest postcard gave 39 percent more.
These are substantial improvements. At the end of the study, the authors point out, "If we had sent the benefits to self message to all households in the state, aggregate contributions would have increased by nearly US$600,000."
To put this into perspective, in 2017 the total donations to the program were roughly $2,700,000.
Is altruism dead?
Are all actions inherently self-interested? Thankfully, no. The study focuses entirely on effective ways to increase charitable donations above levels that currently exist. It doesn't deny that some people are giving out of pure altruism, but rather that an appeal based on self-interest is effective. Plenty of people were giving before this study took place who didn't need a postcard as encouragement. It is also possible that some people donated part of their dividend check to a charity that does not work with Pick.Click.Give and were uncounted here.
It is also important to note that Pick.Click.Give does not provide services but instead gives money to a wide variety of organizations that do. Those organizations operate in fields from animal rescue to job training to public broadcasting. The authors note that it is possible that a more specific appeal to the benefits others will receive from a donation might prove more effective than the generic and all-inclusive "Make Alaska Better For Everyone" appeal that they used.
In an ideal world, charity is its own reward. In ours, it might help to remind somebody how warm and fuzzy they'll feel after donating to your cause.
Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.
- U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
- Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
- While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
The U.S. Navy controls patents for some futuristic and outlandish technologies, some of which, dubbed "the UFO patents," came to life recently. Of particular note are inventions by the somewhat mysterious Dr. Salvatore Cezar Pais, whose tech claims to be able to "engineer reality." His slate of highly-ambitious, borderline sci-fi designs meant for use by the U.S. government range from gravitational wave generators and compact fusion reactors to next-gen hybrid aerospace-underwater crafts with revolutionary propulsion systems, and beyond.
Of course, the existence of patents does not mean these technologies have actually been created, but there is evidence that some demonstrations of operability have been successfully carried out. As investigated and reported by The War Zone, a possible reason why some of the patents may have been taken on by the Navy is that the Chinese military may also be developing similar advanced gadgets.
Among Dr. Pais's patents are designs, approved in 2018, for an aerospace-underwater craft of incredible speed and maneuverability. This cone-shaped vehicle can potentially fly just as well anywhere it may be, whether air, water or space, without leaving any heat signatures. It can achieve this by creating a quantum vacuum around itself with a very dense polarized energy field. This vacuum would allow it to repel any molecule the craft comes in contact with, no matter the medium. Manipulating "quantum field fluctuations in the local vacuum energy state," would help reduce the craft's inertia. The polarized vacuum would dramatically decrease any elemental resistance and lead to "extreme speeds," claims the paper.
Not only that, if the vacuum-creating technology can be engineered, we'd also be able to "engineer the fabric of our reality at the most fundamental level," states the patent. This would lead to major advancements in aerospace propulsion and generating power. Not to mention other reality-changing outcomes that come to mind.
Among Pais's other patents are inventions that stem from similar thinking, outlining pieces of technology necessary to make his creations come to fruition. His paper presented in 2019, titled "Room Temperature Superconducting System for Use on a Hybrid Aerospace Undersea Craft," proposes a system that can achieve superconductivity at room temperatures. This would become "a highly disruptive technology, capable of a total paradigm change in Science and Technology," conveys Pais.
High frequency gravitational wave generator.
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
Another invention devised by Pais is an electromagnetic field generator that could generate "an impenetrable defensive shield to sea and land as well as space-based military and civilian assets." This shield could protect from threats like anti-ship ballistic missiles, cruise missiles that evade radar, coronal mass ejections, military satellites, and even asteroids.
Dr. Pais's ideas center around the phenomenon he dubbed "The Pais Effect". He referred to it in his writings as the "controlled motion of electrically charged matter (from solid to plasma) via accelerated spin and/or accelerated vibration under rapid (yet smooth) acceleration-deceleration-acceleration transients." In less jargon-heavy terms, Pais claims to have figured out how to spin electromagnetic fields in order to contain a fusion reaction – an accomplishment that would lead to a tremendous change in power consumption and an abundance of energy.
According to his bio in a recently published paper on a new Plasma Compression Fusion Device, which could transform energy production, Dr. Pais is a mechanical and aerospace engineer working at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD), which is headquartered in Patuxent River, Maryland. Holding a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, Pais was a NASA Research Fellow and worked with Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. His current Department of Defense work involves his "advanced knowledge of theory, analysis, and modern experimental and computational methods in aerodynamics, along with an understanding of air-vehicle and missile design, especially in the domain of hypersonic power plant and vehicle design." He also has expert knowledge of electrooptics, emerging quantum technologies (laser power generation in particular), high-energy electromagnetic field generation, and the "breakthrough field of room temperature superconductivity, as related to advanced field propulsion."
Suffice it to say, with such a list of research credentials that would make Nikola Tesla proud, Dr. Pais seems well-positioned to carry out groundbreaking work.
A craft using an inertial mass reduction device.
Credit: Salvatore Pais
The patents won't necessarily lead to these technologies ever seeing the light of day. The research has its share of detractors and nonbelievers among other scientists, who think the amount of energy required for the fields described by Pais and his ideas on electromagnetic propulsions are well beyond the scope of current tech and are nearly impossible. Yet investigators at The War Zone found comments from Navy officials that indicate the inventions are being looked at seriously enough, and some tests are taking place.
If you'd like to read through Pais's patents yourself, check them out here.
Laser Augmented Turbojet Propulsion System
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
The 'Monkeydactyl' was a flying reptile that evolved highly specialized adaptations in the Mesozoic Era.
- The 'Monkeydactly', or Kunpengopterus antipollicatus, was a species of pterosaur, a group of flying reptiles that were the first vertebrates to evolve the ability of powered flight.
- In a recent study, a team of researchers used microcomputed tomography scanning to analyze the anatomy of the newly discovered species, finding that it was the first known species to develop opposable thumbs.
- As highly specialized dinosaurs, pterosaurs boasted unusual anatomy that gave them special advantages as aerial predators in the Mesozoic Era.
A newly discovered flying dinosaur nicknamed "Monkeydactyl" is the oldest known creature that evolved opposable thumbs, according to new research published in Current Biology.
The 160-million-year-old reptile is officially named Kunpengopterus antipollicatus. Discovered in China, the dinosaur was a darwinopteran pterosaur, a subgroup of pterosaurs, which first appeared 215 million years ago during the Triassic Period. Pterosaurs, like the pterodactyl, were the first vertebrates to evolve the ability of powered flight.
But unlike other pterosaurs, the Monkeydactyl was the only species in its group known to have opposable thumbs. It's a rare adaptation for non-mammals: The only extant examples are chameleons and some species of tree frogs. (Most birds have at least one opposable digit, though that digit is usually classified as a hallux, not a pollex, which means "thumb" in Latin.)
To analyze the anatomy of K. antipollicatus, an international team of researchers used microcomputed tomography scanning, which generates images of the inside of the body.
"The fingers of 'Monkeydactyl' are tiny and partly embedded in the slab," study co-author Fion Waisum Ma said in a press release. "Thanks to micro-CT scanning, we could see through the rocks, create digital models, and tell how the opposed thumb articulates with the other finger bones."
"This is an interesting discovery. It provides the earliest evidence of a true opposed thumb, and it is from a pterosaur — which wasn't known for having an opposed thumb."
As a tree-dwelling reptile, the Monkeydactyl probably evolved opposable thumbs so it could grasp tree branches, which would have helped it hang, avoid falls, and obtain food. This arboreal (tree-dwelling) locomotion would help the Monkeydactyl adapt to its home ecosystem, the subtropical forests of the Tiaojishan Formation in China during the Jurassic Period.
The researchers noted that the forests of the Tiaojishan Formation were likely warm and humid, thriving with "a rich and complex" diversity of tree-dwelling animals. But while the forests were home to multiple pterosaur species, the Monkeydactyl was likely the only one that was arboreal, spending most of its time in the treetops, while other pterosaurs occupied different levels of the forest.
K. antipollicatus and its phylogenetic position. (A and B) Holotype specimen BPMC 0042 (A) and a schematic skeletal drawing (B). Scale bars, 50 mm.Credit: Zhou et al.
This process — in which competing species manage to coexist by using the environment in different ways — is called "niche partitioning."
"Tiaojishan palaeoforest is home to many organisms, including three genera of darwinopteran pterosaurs," study author Xuanyu Zhou said in the press release. "Our results show that K. antipollicatus has occupied a different niche from Darwinopterus and Wukongopterus, which has likely minimized competition among these pterosaurs."
In general, pterosaurs are a prime example of how animals can evolve remarkably specialized adaptations. As pioneers of vertebrate flight, pterosaurs had strong and lightweight skeletons that ranged widely in size, with some boasting wingspans of more than 30 feet. The largest pterosaurs weighed more than 650 pounds and had jaws twice the length of Tyrannosaurus rex.
Unlike birds, which jump into the air using only their hind limbs, pterosaurs used their exceptionally strong hind limbs and forelimbs to push off the ground and gain enough launch power for flight. That these massive dinosaurs managed to fly, and did so successfully for about 80 million years, has long fascinated and puzzled scientists.The recent discovery shows that pterosaurs developed even more remarkable adaptations than previously thought, suggesting there's still more to learn about the "monsters of the Mesozoic skies."