lived on every continent during
the Jurassic (205 million to 138 million years ago) and were extinct by the
end of the Cretaceous (65 million years ago). They
are the earliest vertebrates known to have evolved powered flight.
wings consisted of skin stretched between their bodies and long fourth
"fingers" of their "hands". Three additional much smaller fingers of
each hand had claws. They laid large
eggs. They were not dinosours.
Pterodactylus antiquus was the name given to the first group
of Pterodactyls found.
Pterodactylus means wing finger. It
the size of a crow. There were 29
pterodactyl species. One Pterodactyl species, the Pterodaustros,
had one thousand teeth.
Pterodactyls were of the order Pterosauria. Pterosaur sizes
varied widely. Nemicolopterus lived 120 million years ago and had a wingspan
of only 10 inches. Quetzalcoatlus, named for Aztec feathered serpent god
Quetzalcoatl was a toothless pterosaur with a long neck and a wingspan as
long as 36 feet and weighed 500 lbs. The wingspan
of the genus Hatzegopteryx is estimated to be as great as 40 feet!
They probably soared over long distances and may have even walked well..
The Pteranodons were descendants of the earlier
pterodactyls. They ate fish, crabs, mollusks, insects and also
scavenged, but had no teeth.
Pteranodons lived in Europe and North America during
the Cretaceous around 75 million years ago. They stood 6 feet tall and
had wingspans of over 20 feet, sometimes greater than 30 feet.
Rhamphorhynchus was a long-tailed pterosaur that lived
during the Jurassic. Fossils have been discovered in Europe and Africa.
Rhamphorhynchus forward pointing needle-like teeth, and its jaw with a
curved, sharp, beak-like tip lacking teeth, were suited for capturing and
eating fish and insects. It had a long tail had a diamond-shaped vane.
Another Pterodactyle, the Dimorphodon macronyx, lived in
Europe during the early Jurassic. It had a 4 feet wingspan, deep, wide
jaws and a long tail. The huge head and eyes of
Dimorphodon were disproportionately large compared to its body and could
lead one to believe it is a fabrication. It closely resembles many medieval
gargoyle statuary. Yet this Dimorphodon illustration is based on a number of
dimorphodon macronyx remains.
Some scientists believe that Dimorphodons climbed trees and
fed on insects and small lizards and may have scavenged fish from the
ancient shorelines. They could walk well and the first three fingers of each
hand were well developed and had large claws.
Dimorphodon lived on the tropical islands of the Jurassic
sea during the early Jurassic Period around 200 million to 176 million years
ago. It had two types of teeth in its jaw, longer teeth in front likely for
snagging fish and shorter teeth in back, probably for chewing.
Cycnorhamphus is another of the incredible pterodactyls that
lived in present day France and Germany during the Late Jurassic around 150
million years ago. It had a wingspan of more than 6 feet. Its robust skull
and long beak with teeth only near the end tip of its jaws were likely an
adaptation for digging its beak into the mud and foraging for invertebrates
Early Pteranodon drawing
Rhamphorhynchus, one of the first
vertebrates to fly, was an early pterosaur in Africa and Europe in the late
Jurassic around 150 million years ago. They ranged in size, the
largest having a wingspan of almost 6 feet. It had a large head, a
long neck, long jaws with outward pointing teeth, a
throat pouch, small legs and a long tail with a diamond shaped flap. It
likely hunted or scavenged for fish. Their fossils are often found
near ancient seabeds.
The Dimorphodon, lived in Europe during the early Jurassic.
It had a large breastbone and a large crest on the humerus to which the
powerful flight muscles were attached. Thin skin membranes stretched from
the fourth fingers along the abedomen to the legs and a diamond-shaped flap
at the end of its long tail, added stability. It had a 4 foot wingspan. The
few Dimorphodon fossils which have been found show large voids in its skull
which lightened its huge head. It was well suited for flapping, powered
Pterodactylus spectabilis was the first
Pterdactyl to be identified as a flying reptile. Fossil remains have been
found in Europe and Africa. It was a carnivore that likely ate fish and
other small animals. Its wings were formed by a skin and muscle membrane
stretching between its abdomen, fingers and hind legs. Amazingly, specimens
have been discovered with fairly well preserved soft tissue which aided
accurate knowledge of the species' anatomy.
This strange image of Scaphognathus
is from an early, 100 year old drawing based on limited information. Even
today, only a few specimens have been found.
Scaphognathus, was a short-tailed pterodactyloid pterosaur
that lived around Germany about 150 million years ago during the Jurassic.
It was originally
misidentified as Pterodactylus crassirostris from
a fossil first discovered in 1831 in what is called the Solnhofen limestone
in the German state of Bavaria. During the late Jurassic it was an
archipelago adjacent to the Tethys Sea, which was habitat for many now extinct
animals the fossils of which are discovered and studied today.