Pterodactyls 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. Pterodactyl 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 dinosaurs.
Pterodactylus antiquus was the name given to the first group of Pterodactyls found. Pterodactylus means wing finger. It was about 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.
Early Pteranodon drawing
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, 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.
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 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 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 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 abdomen 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 flight.
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
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.