It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…NOT a dinosaur. That’s right, pterosaurs are not dinosaurs—they’re flying reptiles. Learn more in Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs. Here are some fun facts:
- Pterosaurs evolved into dozens of species: Some were as large as an F-16 fighter jet, and others as small as a paper airplane.
- More than 150 species of pterosaurs have been discovered in excavations around globe.
- Pterosaurs were the first animals after insects to evolve powered flight—not just leaping or gliding but flapping their wings to generate lift and travel through the air.
- Although many animals can glide through the air, pterosaurs, birds, and bats are the only vertebrates that have evolved to fly by flapping their wings.
- Pterosaurs are close cousins of dinosaurs but evolved on a separate branch of the reptile family tree.
- Pterosaurs had fragile bones that preserved poorly, so pterosaur fossils are frequently incomplete.
- Pterosaur fossils are also easily damaged when extracted, transported or prepared for study or display.
- The first scientist to correctly identify this mysterious creature as a flying reptile was French zoologist Georges Cuvier, in 1809. Cuvier gave it a name: ptéro-dactyle, meaning “wing finger.”
- Pterodactylus antiquus was the first flying reptile to be called a “pterodactyl.”
- Like birds and most other reptiles, female pterosaurs laid eggs.
- By the time it hatched, a pterosaur’s wings were fully formed, and it could probably fly within a short time.
- Today, almost all paleontologists agree that pterosaurs were quadrupedal—they walked on all four limbs—based on evidence from fossil tracks.
- A pterosaur’s fourth finger was connected to the hand by a roller joint, so the wings could fold like umbrella spokes.
- A pterosaur’s wing bones were hollow tubes, with walls no thicker than a playing card.
- Pterosaurs had a fuzzy coat and were probably warm-blooded.
- Quetzalcoatlus northropi had wings spanning around 33 feet (10 meters) and was about the size of a two-seater plane.
- Some pterosaurs had big, sharp teeth clearly suited to stabbing prey. Others had no teeth at all and probably ate fruit. And others showed extreme modifications comparable to a wide range of animals living today, indicating highly specialized diets.
Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs is organized by the American Museum of Natural History, New York (www.amnh.org).