From the United States to Germany, Brazil, and China, Pterodactyls inhabited many different locations from the late Triassic period to the end of the Cretaceous Period. But, unlike their Tyrannosaurus rex or Stegasaurus neighbors, they were not dinosaurs. Believe It or Not! these winged creatures were actually flying reptiles. Soaring through the air for more than 160 million years, Pterodactyl is the common term for those in the Pterodactylus, or Pteranodon, genera.
While we have been trained as children to view pterosaurs as members of the dinosaur world, they display many different features than the average dinosaur. One of the most observable traits is the limb structure of the airborne family. Pterosaurs had limbs that stuck out from the sides of their bodies, similar to lizards and crocodiles. Dinosaurs had limbs located beneath their bodies.
Pterosaurs and dinosaurs had a common ancestor, but they evolved separately. This evolution gave the pterosaurs differentiations in leg and bone formation, unlike the common dino. However, both went extinct around the same time, 66 million years ago.
Before birds and bats, pterosaurs were the first vertebrates to fly by flapping their wings, lifting themselves up to travel through the air. The Pterodactylus and other Pterosaurs had wings made of skin, muscle, and other membranes that stretched from a giant fourth finger to their ankles. Their bones were hollow, similar to birds; some of them even had hair-like coats.
The largest Pterosaurs could fly as fast as 67 mph, and their wingspan varied depending on their genera. For example, the Quetzalcoatlus northropi had an enormous wingspan of 36 feet. But the Nemicolopterus crypticus had a wingspan of just 10 inches.
Dinner is Served
Typically, pterosaurs had long necks and pelican-like throats to catch fish. Most had needle-like teeth, but some had no teeth at all. And, many had crests made of either bone or flesh that were likely used to attract mates.
In general, pterosaurs were meat-eaters who ate lizards, baby dinosaurs, eggs, insects, fish, squid, crab, and carcasses. They also ate fruit, depending on where they lived. But, they weren’t immune to being prey. It’s believed that they were part of the diet of meat-eating dinosaurs.
Unfortunately, no descendants of pterosaurs live on earth today, and remains of this species are a rare find. As the bones of pterosaurs are so fragile and preserved so poorly, fossils are usually incomplete when discovered. To form a picture or conduct research surrounding a particular species, paleontologists must often gather information from several fossils, or draw conclusions from related pterosaurs that are better known.
By Noelle Talmon, contributor for Ripleys.com