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"Flying lizards" were flying reptiles that lived during the age of dinosaurs. They were not, however, dinosaurs, since the word "dinosaur" refers strictly to a specific class of reptiles that walked on land.


Some pterosaurs were as small as sparrows, while others were as large as an airplane. They had large brains, long tails, short necks, and long, narrow wings.

All pterosaurs had hands specially adapted for flight, with three fingers being claws and the long fourth finger being part of the wing structure. The wings had stiff fibers like the ribs of an umbrella, with thin leathery skin stretch over them. Like modern birds, they had light, hollow bones that, despite the large size of some species, allowed all to fly with great ease. Crests on the bones to which wing muscles attached indicate that most pterosaurs actually flapped their wings, although some probably preferred to ride air currents. It is likely that most pterosaurs were rather awkward on land, however, and it is unknown how they launched themselves into flight.

Pterandon fossil

The first pterosaur fossil was found in 1784, in Solnhofen limestone in Bavaria, Germany, by Italian naturalist Cosmo Alexxandro Collini. The name "pterodactyle" was coined by naturalist Georges Cuvier in 1809. Since then pterosaur fossils have been found throughout Europe, North America, Australia, and Africa. Most have been found near prehistoric seas and lakes, suggesting that pterosaurs probably fed on fish and crustaceans.

Scientific Classification

phylum Chordata
subphylum Vertebrata
class Diapsida
subclass Archosauria
order Pterosauria

suborder Rhamphorhychoidea ("prow beaks")
Anurognathus -- 1-foot wingspan; wide, deep, puffin-like jaws and peg-like teeth; short tail; late Jurassic; Germany
Eudimorphon -- wingspan about 2.5 feet; many sharp teeth in pointed jaws; diamond-shaped flap of skin at the end of a long, pointed tail; late Jurassic; Italy
Campylognathoides -- wingspan up to 20 feet; long tail; early Jurassic; Germany and India; genus named by Strand in 1928
Dimorphodon -- wingspan up to 4 feet; deep, wide jaws like the beak of a modern puffin; short neck; diamond-shaped flap of skin at the end of a long pointed tail; early Triassic; England
Rhamphorhynchus -- wingspan about 3.25 feet; long, narrow jaws with sharp teeth pointing outwards; the very long tail ended in a diamond-shaped flap; late Jurassic; Germany and Tanzania
Scaphognathus -- wingspan about 3.25 feet; late Jurassic; England; genus named by Wagner in 1861
Sordes -- wingspan about 1.5 feet; had a thick hairy coat on the body but not on the tail or wings; no head crest; long pointed tail; late Jurassic; Kazakhstan

suborder Pterodactyloidea ("wing finger")
Cearadactylus -- wingspan up to 13 feet; protruding, interlocking teeth; early Cretaceous; Brazil
Dsungaripterus -- wingspan averaging 10 feet; bony crest along snout; long, narrow, curved jaws with a pointed tip; flat teeth at the back of the jaws; early Cretaceous; China
Pterodactylus -- wingspan about 2.5 feet; long, narrow jaws with sharp teeth; no head crest; late Jurassic; Tanzania, England, France, Germany
Pterodaustro -- wingspan about 4 feet; long, blunt jaws with long teeth in the lower jaw and tiny teeth in the upper; may have fed by skimming fish from sea surface; late Jurassic; Argentina
Pteranodon -- wingspan 20-25 feet, with a comparatively small body; about 25 pounds; very long bony head crest; long beak with no teeth; no tail; capable of bipedal terrestrial movement; late Cretaceous; England and Kansas
Quetzalcoatlus -- largest flying creature ever, with a wingspan of up to 40 feet; long neck; long, toothless jaws; long bony head crest; late Cretaceous; Texas

Zoom Dinosaurs

Georges Cuvier

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This page was last updated on 02/27/2017.