These pterrific facts will help you answer the popular question of whether pterodactyls are dinosaurs!
Pterodactyls, the common name for pterosaurs, are an extinct group of winged reptiles. There was a genus of pterosaur called Pterodactylus – which is where the word “pterodactyl” comes from – but not all pterosaurs belong to this genus.
Are pterosaurs birds, dinosaurs, or mammals? The answer? D: none of the above! Because they flew and their front limbs stretch out to the sides, they are not dinosaurs. Instead, they’re a distant dinosaur cousin.
Pterosaurs lived from the late Triassic Period to the end of the Cretaceous Period, when they went extinct along with dinosaurs. Pterosaurs were carnivores, feeding mostly on fish and small animals. Many had hooked claws and sharp teeth that they used to grab their prey.
Pterosaurs evolved into dozens of individual species. Some were as large as F-16 fighter jets, while others were as small as paper airplanes.
They were also the first animals after insects to evolve powered flight. This means they didn’t just leap into the air or glide but flapped their wings to generate lift.
However, not all pterosaurs could fly. Pterodactylus flew using wings formed by a tough, thin membrane stretching along their bodies to their elongated fourth finger.
Like birds, pterosaurs had lightweight, hollow bones. Pterosaur skeletons survive as fossils only when their bodies came to rest in a very protected environment. Most pterosaur remains come from species that lived near the ocean or sea.
Many Pterodactylus fossils are preserved in Bavaria, Germany. During the Jurassic period, the region was a swampy wetland at the edge of an ancient sea. Organisms that washed into the wetland became buried in the mud. This mud slowly hardened into limestone and the bones fossilized.
While Pterodactyls are not classified as dinosaurs, they still have a lot in common with other prehistoric predators, and we still have much to learn about them. The rarity of fossils leaves major gaps in our knowledge about pterosaurs. How did they evolve flight? Why did they vanish? What exactly did they look like? Maybe one day you’ll help find answers to these questions!
Expand on the activity!
Learn more about pterosaurs with these videos or stomp into DinoDigs to learn about more prehistoric pals!
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