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ZoomDinosaurs.com
Dinosaur and Paleontology Dictionary
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

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If the dinosaur or paleontology term you are looking for is not in the dictionary, please e-mail us.

PTERODACTYLS or PTERODACTYLOIDS
"Winged fingers"

ANATOMY
The Pterodactyls (or Pterodactyloids) were a group of flying reptiles that ranged in size from having a wingspan of a few inches (primitive Pterodactyls) to over 40 feet (12 m) (later Pterodactyls). They were lightly built with hollow bones, long, curved necks, long skulls, and small bodies. They had large brains and good eyesight. Some had short tails, some had no tails. Some had light-weight, bony head-crests, some did not. The crest may have acted as a rudder when flying or may have been a sexual characteristic. Some pterodactyloids had fur on their bodies.

Pterodactyloid wings were covered by a leathery membrane. This thin but tough membrane stretched between its body, the top of its legs and its elongated fourth fingers, forming the structure of the wing. Claws protruded from the other fingers.

Pterodactyloids could flap their wings and fly with power, but the largest ones (like Quetzalcoatlus) probably relied on updrafts (rising warm air) and breezes to help in flying.

Some pterodactyloids include:

Pterodactylus, a small pterodactyloid with a wingspan of about 20-30 inches. It lived during the late Jurassic on lake shores. Pterodactylus was originally named Ptero-Dactyle by Cuvier in 1809 and was Latinized by Rafinesque in 1815.

Dsungaripterus, a pterodactyloid about 10 feet (3 m) wide leathery wings. It had an unusual bony crest running along its snout and had long, narrow, curved jaws with a pointed tip. It lived during the early Cretaceous period.

Pteranodon, a pterodactyloid about 6 feet (1.8 m) long, had a 25 foot (7.8 m) wingspan. It lived during the late Cretaceous period.

Quetzalcoatlus, a pterodactyloid which had a wingspan of 40 feet but only weighed about 110 pounds (50 kg). It lived during the late Cretaceous period.

CLASSIFICATION
Pterodactyloids were reptiles, but not dinosaurs. By definition, all dinosaurs were diapsid reptiles with an upright stance. Pterosaurs probably had a semi-upright stance. There is a small minority of paleontologists who think that the pterosaurs' stance could have been upright and that pterosaurs should therefore be included in the clade of dinosaurs (being derived theropods). Either way, dinosaurs and pterosaurs are certainly closely related.

Pterodactyloids were:

WHEN PTERODACTYLS LIVED
Pterodactyloids lived from the Jurassic period through the late Cretaceous period. Pterodactyls died out during the Cretaceous, about 65 million years ago, during the K-T extinction.

The birds evolved during the Jurassic period and were probably competition for the pterodactyloids.

DIET
Pterodactyloids were carnivores; some had bristle-like teeth, some had no teeth. They ate fish (which they caught at the surface of the oceans), mollusks, crabs, perhaps plankton (for some species), insects, and scavenged dead animals on land.

LOCOMOTION
Pterodactyloids flew long distances using large, light-weight wings.

DISCOVERY OF FOSSILS
Pterodactyloid fossils have been found in North America, Europe, Africa, and Australia. The first pterosaur (flying reptile) was found in 1784 in Solnhofen limestone (in Bavaria, Germany) by an Italian naturalist named Cosmo Alessandro Collini. It was first thought to be a marine animal - it was later determined to be a flying reptile and was named "pterodactyle" (by Georges Cuvier in 1809).

PTERODACTYLOID ACTIVITIES AND LINKS
Print out a Pterodactylus info page to color!
Pterosaurs from the UCMP, Berkeley.
Pterodactylus information sheet from Enchanted Learning.
Quetzalcoatlus information sheet from Enchanted Learning.
Pteranodon information sheet from Enchanted Learning.
Quetzalcoatlus, the giant pterosaur, at the Royal Tyrrell Museum.




Information Sheets About Dinosaurs
(and Other Prehistoric Creatures)

Just click on an animal's name to go to that information sheet. If the dinosaur you're interested in isn't here, check the Dinosaur Dictionary or the list of Dinosaur Genera. Names with an asterisk (*) were not dinosaurs.
How to write a great dinosaur report.

For dinosaur printouts, click here.

For brief dinosaur fact sheets, click here.




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