Facts about Pterosaurs, an extinct prehistoric animal

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Dinosaur Jungle   >   Other Prehistoric Animals   >   Pterosaurs


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Scientific Classification
  Kingdom Animalia
  Phylum Chordata
  Class Sauropsida
  (unranked) Archosauria
  Order Pterosauria
Pterosaurs (which means "winged lizard") which are also sometimes popularly known as "Pterodactyls" (which means "winged finger") were winged reptiles that evolved during the late Triassic period, about 220 million years ago, and survived until the Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction, about 65 million years ago. Although contemporary with the dinosaurs, Pterosaurs were not dinosaurs, although they were also members of the Archosaur group of reptiles (the group that also includes dinosaurs, birds, crocodilians, and Champsosaurs).

The smallest Pterosaurs were about the size of a small bird, but the largest, such as Quetzalcoatlus had a wingspan of as much as 36 feet (11 meters). Most (or perhaps even) all smaller Pterosaur species seemed to have died out before the end of the Cretaceous period, and it is thought that this might have been due to competition from birds. By the time of the Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction, only the Pterosaurs survived, and these of course died out during that extinction.

Pterosaurs evolved flight independently and separately from birds, but incorporated a number of bird-like features. Their bones were hollow and air filled, which reduced their weight, that had breastbone to which they flight muscles were attached, and they seem to have brain adaptations which would have helped them fly. It was once thought that Pterosaurs were mainly gliders, but today many scientists believe that atleast some species were active flyers.

Pterosaurs wings were a membrane that stretched from an elongated fourth finger of each arm, and joined to the body. Some paleontologists have argued that the wing membrane would also have joined to the hind limbs, but others say this would not have been the case - it is also possible that the extent of the wing membrane depended on the particular species. It is also known that atleast some Pterosaurs had webbed feet, and while it is possible that these may have been used for swimming, it is also possible that they may have assisted in flying.

There is also evidence that at least some species of Pterosaurs had hair. Pterosaur hair evolved independently of mammalian hair, and would have a different structure, although similar function to that of a mammals. The presence of hair suggests that Pterosaurs were probably warm-blooded ("endothermic").

When walking on the ground, Pterosaurs probably had a semi-erect posture. There was once much debate about whether they walked on two legs (bipedally) or four legs (quadrupedally), but fossil tracks that have been found, show they were quadrupeds.

The first Pterosaur fossil was found in 1784 by Cosimo Collini, who believed he had found a sea creature (although the eminent naturalist Georges Cuvier suggested that Pterosaurs were flying creatures as early as 1801, the aquatic hypothesis about the creatures continued to be supported by some scientists until at least the 1830s). Other early discoveries include a find of the Pterosaur Dimorphodon by Mary Anning in Lyme Regis, England in 1828.

Today, at least 60 different genera of Pterosaurs are known, and fossil have been found in every continent except Antarctica. Since Pterosaur bones were hollow, unfortunately they tended to be crushed when buried under sediments, so many fossils are poorly preserved. However, fortunately there is an exception - for some unknown reason the bones in Pterosaurs found in the Araripe Plateau in Brazil were not crushed during the fossilization process. Additionally, as already noted, fossil Pterosaur trackways have been found. Furthermore, one fossil Pterosaur egg has been found - which although squashed, was not cracked (suggesting Pterosaur eggs were soft and leathery) - contained an embryo containing well-developed wing membranes.

Because Pterosaur fossils are not always well-preserved, and there are many gaps in the fossil record, there has been much debate about how Pterosaurs evolved, and how to classify them. Traditionally, Pterosaurs are generally classified into two suborders - the Rhamphorhynchoidea, which were "primitive" Pterosaurs, with long tails and fingers adapted to climbing - and the Pterodactyloidea, which were "advanced" Pterosaurs, with shorter tails, long wing metacarpals.

Fossils of Pterosaurs have been found around the world including in England, Norway, the united States, Mexico, South America, and Australia.

Pterosaurs Timeline:

Pterosaurs were winged reptiles that lived between 220 and 65 million years ago

Pterosaurs were winged reptiles that lived between 220 and 65 million years ago

Related Information & Resources

See Also

Pterosaur Books

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Pterosaurs: Natural History, Evolution, Anatomy
By Mark P. Witton

Hardcover (304 pages)

Pterosaurs: Natural History, Evolution, Anatomy
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  • Princeton University Press
Product Description:

For 150 million years, the skies didn't belong to birds--they belonged to the pterosaurs. These flying reptiles, which include the pterodactyls, shared the world with the nonavian dinosaurs until their extinction 65 million years ago. Some pterosaurs, such as the giant azhdarchids, were the largest flying animals of all time, with wingspans exceeding thirty feet and standing heights comparable to modern giraffes. This richly illustrated book takes an unprecedented look at these astonishing creatures, presenting the latest findings on their anatomy, ecology, and extinction.

Pterosaurs features some 200 stunning illustrations, including original paintings by Mark Witton and photos of rarely seen fossils. After decades of mystery, paleontologists have finally begun to understand how pterosaurs are related to other reptiles, how they functioned as living animals, and, despite dwarfing all other flying animals, how they managed to become airborne. Here you can explore the fossil evidence of pterosaur behavior and ecology, learn about the skeletal and soft-tissue anatomy of pterosaurs, and consider the newest theories about their cryptic origins. This one-of-a-kind book covers the discovery history, paleobiogeography, anatomy, and behaviors of more than 130 species of pterosaur, and also discusses their demise at the end of the Mesozoic.

  • The most comprehensive book on pterosaurs ever published

  • Features some 200 illustrations, including original paintings by the author

  • Covers every known species and major group of pterosaurs

  • Describes pterosaur anatomy, ecology, behaviors, diversity, and more

  • Encourages further study with 500 references to primary pterosaur literature

The Pterosaurs: From Deep Time
By David M. Unwin

Pi Press
Released: 2005-08-25
Hardcover (352 pages)

The Pterosaurs: From Deep Time
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Product Description:

Here is the first complete portrait of the legendary flying dragons of deep time–the pterosaurs–designed for non-specialists, yet founded on the real science of these bizarre creatures.  Presented lucidly and accessibly by one of the world’s leading experts, David Unwin’s book is built on a mountain of new fossil discoveries and the latest research. 


About 220 millions years ago, a group of reptiles took to the Earth’s vast and open skies. No longer tethered to the ground, the earliest pterosaurs evolved into a multitude of diverse forms, spread around the globe, and ruled the skies until they went extinct along with the dinosaurs about 65 millions years ago, rarely leaving fossils as a record of their existence. What they did leave was a mystery for paleontologists to solve; an enigma so difficult to crack that it took centuries of false starts and missteps before the path to a true understanding of pterosaurs was uncovered. 


Now, an understanding of the fundamental nature of these strange creatures is finally possible.  In the last 15 years, stunning new fossil finds and significant advances in technology have led to a breakthrough in our knowledge of pterosaurs.  New fossils of the earliest species were discovered in Italy, a remarkably well-preserved and complete wing was found in Central Asia, and, most extraordinarily, a pterosaur embryo inside an egg was unearthed in China.  CAT scanning has let researchers glimpse inside pterosaur skulls and construct three-dimensional images of their bodies from crushed bones, and modern techniques for analyzing relationships between species have revealed surprising insights into the evolution of the group.


Drawing on these and other advances, David Unwin, caretaker of Archaeopteryx and curator at the Museum of Natural History in Berlin, paints pterosaurs and their world more vividly than has previously been possible.  He eloquently reconstructs their biology and behavior.  Pterosaurs weren’t scaly like dinosaurs, but hairy; most were brightly colored and adorned with remarkable head crests; they were excellent fliers with physiologically sophisticated wings; they walked on all fours; and varied in size from eight inches to forty feet in wingspan.  He shows how they lived their lives, raised their young, and interacted with the different environments of Mesozoic Earth.  Then, building on his thorough examination of their anatomy and lifestyle, and using the powerful technique of cladistic analysis, Unwin unravels the evolutionary history of pterosaurs and establishes their place in the one great tree of life.


Packed with 95 color and 30 black and white illustrations–including 10 full-page original color paintings that are scientific recreations of different pterosaur species–The Pterosaurs From Deep Time takes readers on an wondrous expedition back through the lost world of the Earth’s deep past.



Illustrated Encyclopedia of Pterosaurs (A Salamander Book)
By Peter Wellnhofer

Released: 1991-06-29
Hardcover (192 pages)

Illustrated Encyclopedia of Pterosaurs (A Salamander Book)
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Recounts the story of the discovery and growth of scientific knowledge of prehistoric flying reptiles, describes the various species, and discusses their way of life, the reasons for their extinction, and how they compare to other flying vertebrates
100 Pterosaurs to Fold and Fly [Paperback] [Feb 01, 2018] NILL

Usborne Publishing Ltd

100 Pterosaurs to Fold and Fly [Paperback] [Feb 01, 2018] NILL
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BRAND NEW, Exactly same ISBN as listed, Please double check ISBN carefully before ordering.
Pterosaurs: Flying Contemporaries of the Dinosaurs
By Andre J. Veldmeijer & Ilja Nieuwland

Sidestone Press
Released: 2013-01-14
Paperback (134 pages)

Pterosaurs: Flying Contemporaries of the Dinosaurs
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Pterosaurs or flying reptiles were the first vertebrates to evolve flight. These distant relatives of modern reptiles and dinosaurs lived from the Late Triassic (over 200 million years ago) to the end of the Cretaceous (about 65 million years ago) a span of some 135 million years. When they became extinct, no relatives survived them and as a result these prehistoric animals cannot readily be compared with our modern-day fauna. So what do we know of these highly succsessful animals? The present summary answers this and many more questions based on the most recent results of modern scientific research.
After a short introduction to palaeontology as a science and its history related to pterosaurs, it explains what pterosaurs were, when and where they lived, and what they looked like. Topics such as disease, injury and reproduction are also discussed. Separated from this text are 'Mark explains' boxes. Each of these explanations puts one specific species in the spotlight and focuses on its lifestyle. They show how diverse pterosaurs were, from small insectivorous animals with a wingspan of nearly 40 centimetres to the biggest flying animals ever to take to the air, with wingspans of over 10 metres and with a way of life comparable to modern-day storks. The text is illustrated with many full colour photographs and beautiful palaeo-art prepared by experts in the field.
Rotten and Rascal: The Two Terrible Pterosaur Twins
By Paul Geraghty

Released: 2013-02-11
Paperback (32 pages)

Rotten and Rascal: The Two Terrible Pterosaur Twins
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  • Andersen Press UK
Product Description:

A fabulously funny picture book about two constantly bickering baby dinosaurs with a brilliant and unexpected twist at the end—perfect for squabbling siblings

Rotten and Rascal are quarreling twin baby pterosaurs who yell, shout, screech, howl, scream, and snarl at each other all day long. One day a terrible argument begins and one by one the other dinosaurs try to resolve their noisy dispute. But the two terrible pterosaur twins prove impossible to shut up. Until, that is, the terrifying Tyrannosaurus Rex steps in and finally silences them.

Can I Bring My Pterodactyl to School, Ms. Johnson? (Prehistoric Pets)
By Lois G. Grambling

Released: 2006-02-01
Paperback (32 pages)

Can I Bring My Pterodactyl to School, Ms. Johnson? (Prehistoric Pets)
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  • Charlesbridge Publishing
Product Description:
Kids are in for Jurassic-sized laughs as they follow a boy in his quest to bring a pterodactyl to school. And not just any pterodactyl: this one wards off bullies, loves to read stories, and makes an excellent science display. Hilarious illustrations capture the madcap imagination of the determined hero and his creative pleas to his teacher.
Flying Dinosaurs: How Fearsome Reptiles Became Birds
By John Pickrell

Columbia University Press
Released: 2014-09-16
Kindle Edition (240 pages)

Flying Dinosaurs: How Fearsome Reptiles Became Birds
Product Description:

The discovery of stunning, feathered dinosaur fossils coming out of China since 2006 suggest that these creatures were much more bird-like than paleontologists previously imagined. Further evidence—bones, genetics, eggs, behavior, and more—has shown a seamless transition from fleet-footed carnivores to the ancestors of modern birds.

Mixing colorful portraits with news on the latest fossil findings and interviews with leading paleontologists in the United States, China, Europe, and Australia, John Pickrell explains and details dinosaurs' development of flight. This special capacity introduced a whole new range of abilities for the animals and helped them survive a mass extinction, when thousands of other dinosaur species that once populated the Earth did not. Pickrell also turns his journalistic eye toward the stories behind the latest discoveries, investigating the role of the Chinese black market in trading fossils, the controversies among various dinosaur hunters, the interference of national governments intent on protecting scientific information, and the race to publish findings first that make this research such a dynamic area of science.

Big Bird
By Ken Gerhard

Released: 2015-01-20
Kindle Edition (126 pages)

Big Bird
Product Description:
A LEGEND ON LEATHER WINGS! The Indians called it the Thunderbird, a winged monster so vast that the beating of its mighty pinions sounded like thunder. But this ancient beast is not to be held in the cage of mythology. Today, from all over the dusty U.S. / Mexican border come hair-raising stories of modern day encounters with winged monsters of immense size and terrifying appearance. Further field sightings of similar creatures are recorded from all around the globe. The Kongamato of Africa, the Ropen of New Guinea and many others. What lies behind these weird tales? Ken Gerhard is in pole position to find out. A native Texan, he lives in the homeland of the monster some call 'Big Bird'. Cryptozoologist, author, adventurer, and gothic musician Ken is a larger than life character as amazing as the Big Bird itself. Ken's scholarly work is the first of its kind. The research and fieldwork involved are indeed impressive. On the track of the monster, Ken uncovers cases of animal mutilations, attacks on humans and mounting evidence of a stunning zoological discovery ignored by mainstream science. Something incredible awaits us on the broad desert horizon. Keep watching the skies!
The illustrated encyclopedia of pterosaurs (Illustrated Encyclopedias)
By Peter Wellnhofer

Brand: Salamander Books
Hardcover (192 pages)

The illustrated encyclopedia of pterosaurs (Illustrated Encyclopedias)
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  • Used Book in Good Condition
Product Description:
Book by Wellnhofer, Peter

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