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Dinosaur and Paleontology Dictionary
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(pronounced ter-oh-DAK-til-us) Pterodactylus (meaning "wing finger") was a small, flying reptile that lived during the time of the dinosaurs. It was not a dinosaur, but type of extinct, flying reptile (a pterosaur) that lived during the late Jurassic period. Fossils have been found in Tanzania, England, France, and Germany. This reptile lived during the late Jurassic period on lake shores. It reproduced by laying eggs. Pterodactylus was originally named Ptero-Dactyle by Cuvier in 1809 and was Latinized by Rafinesque in 1815.
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. Pterodactylus could flap its wings and fly with power.
WHEN PTERODACTYLUS LIVED
Pterodactyloids lived during the late Jurassic period. The birds also evolved during the Jurassic period and were probably competition for the pterodactyloids.
Pterodactylus was a carnivore (a flesh-eater); fish may have been a mainstay in its diet. Its long, pointed beak and many small teeth helped it catch its prey.
Pterodactylus flew long distances using its lightweight wings.
DISCOVERY OF FOSSILS
Pterodactylus fossils have been found in France, England, Germany, and Tanzania (Africa). 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).
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.
Classicication of Pterodactylus:
Pterosaurs from the UCMP, Berkeley.
(and Other Prehistoric Creatures)
For brief dinosaur fact sheets, click here.
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