6 min

Pterosaurs: Flying Reptiles of the Mesozoi‪c‬ Fossil Huntress — Palaeo Sommelier

    • Earth Sciences

Pterosaurs were flying reptiles of the extinct clade or order Pterosauria. They soared our ancient skies during most of the Mesozoic — from the late Triassic to the end of the Cretaceous (228 to 66 million years ago).

By the end of the Cretaceous, they had grown to giants and one of their brethren, Quetzalcoatlus, a member of the family Azhdarchidae, boasts being the largest known flying animal that ever lived. They were the earliest vertebrates known to have evolved powered flight. Their wings were formed by a membrane of skin, muscle, and other tissues stretching from the ankles to a dramatically lengthened fourth finger.

We divide their lineage into two major types: basal pterosaurs and pterodactyloids. Basal pterosaurs (also called 'non-pterodactyloid pterosaurs' or ‘rhamphorhynchoids’) were smaller animals with fully toothed jaws and long tails. Their wide wing membranes connected to their hind legs. This would have allowed them some manoeuvrability on the ground, but with an awkward sprawling posture. They were better climbers with flexible joint anatomy and strong claws. Basal pterosaurs preferred to dine on insects and small vertebrates.

Later pterosaurs (pterodactyloids) evolved many sizes, shapes, and lifestyles. Pterodactlyoids had narrower wings with free hind limbs, highly reduced tails, and long necks with large heads. On the ground, pterodactyloids walked better than their earlier counterparts, manoeuvring all four limbs smoothly with an upright posture. They walked standing plantigrade on the hind feet and folding the wing finger upward to walk on the three-fingered "hand." 

These later pterosaurs were more nimble. They could take off from the ground, run and wade and swim. Their jaws had horny beaks and some of these later groups lacked the teeth of earlier lineages. Some groups developed elaborate head crests that were likely used to attract mates' sexy-pterosaur style.

Pterosaurs were flying reptiles of the extinct clade or order Pterosauria. They soared our ancient skies during most of the Mesozoic — from the late Triassic to the end of the Cretaceous (228 to 66 million years ago).

By the end of the Cretaceous, they had grown to giants and one of their brethren, Quetzalcoatlus, a member of the family Azhdarchidae, boasts being the largest known flying animal that ever lived. They were the earliest vertebrates known to have evolved powered flight. Their wings were formed by a membrane of skin, muscle, and other tissues stretching from the ankles to a dramatically lengthened fourth finger.

We divide their lineage into two major types: basal pterosaurs and pterodactyloids. Basal pterosaurs (also called 'non-pterodactyloid pterosaurs' or ‘rhamphorhynchoids’) were smaller animals with fully toothed jaws and long tails. Their wide wing membranes connected to their hind legs. This would have allowed them some manoeuvrability on the ground, but with an awkward sprawling posture. They were better climbers with flexible joint anatomy and strong claws. Basal pterosaurs preferred to dine on insects and small vertebrates.

Later pterosaurs (pterodactyloids) evolved many sizes, shapes, and lifestyles. Pterodactlyoids had narrower wings with free hind limbs, highly reduced tails, and long necks with large heads. On the ground, pterodactyloids walked better than their earlier counterparts, manoeuvring all four limbs smoothly with an upright posture. They walked standing plantigrade on the hind feet and folding the wing finger upward to walk on the three-fingered "hand." 

These later pterosaurs were more nimble. They could take off from the ground, run and wade and swim. Their jaws had horny beaks and some of these later groups lacked the teeth of earlier lineages. Some groups developed elaborate head crests that were likely used to attract mates' sexy-pterosaur style.

6 min

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