The skies above the dinosaurs were alive with flying reptiles. These were the pterosaurs. They were not dinosaurs, but they were close relatives. One of the largest pterosaurs was Quetzalcoatlus. This colossal animal was easily the size of a fully grown giraffe—but with a wingspan that would have stretched across a tennis court.
FAMILY FACT FILE
■ Each wing formed from skin stretched between an extra-long finger and the leg.
■ Some pterosaurs had head crests.
■ Large eyes
■ Long, narrow jaws
■ Hollow bones
■ Pterosaurs flapped their wings
Pterosaurs first appeared in the late Triassic, 215 million years ago, and survived until the end of the Cretaceous Period, 65 million years ago.
■ When: 70–65 million years ago (Cretaceous)
■ Fossil location: USA
■ Habitat: Plains and woodlands
■ Size: 33–36 ft (10–11 m) wingspan
This pterosaur had a larger wingspan than a small plane, yet light bones meant that it only weighed around 550 lb (250 kg). During the day it soared over great distances, looking for small or baby dinosaurs to snap up in its giant, toothless jaws. It was one of the largest flying animals of all time.
■ When: 150–144 million years ago (Jurassic)
■ Fossil location: Germany
■ Habitat: Coastal
■ Size: 12 in (30 cm) long
Many complete skeleton finds have ensured that Pterodactylus has become one of the best known of pterosaurs. This animal had a very short tail and a longer neck than earlier pterosaurs, making it a better flyer.
This Pterodactylus fossil discovered in Germany is one of the most complete and best-preserved pterosaur fossils known.
■ When: 88–80 million years ago (Cretaceous)
■ Fossil location: North America
■ Habitat: Coastal
■ Size: 23–30 ft (7–9 m) wingspan
This creature’s name means “wings and no teeth.” It was one of the largest pterosaurs. Pteranodons lived in huge flocks and cruised over the ocean looking for fish to scoop up in their slender, pointed beaks. A large head crest may have been used for display.
■ When: 200–180 million years ago (Jurassic)
■ Fossil location: British Isles
■ Habitat: Coastal woodlands
■ Size: 24 in (60 cm) long
Dimorphodon’s head was almost a third of its body length and contained two types of teeth, which was unusual for a pterosaur. (Its name actually means “two-form tooth.”)
It probably hunted small vertebrates, such as lizardlike reptiles, snapping its jaws closed with immense speed to trap them.
■ When: 150 million years ago (Jurassic)
■ Fossil location: Europe, Africa
■ Habitat: Coastal and riverside
■ Size: 16 in (40 cm) long
With its slim, spiked teeth, throat pouch, and long, narrow jaw, Rhamphorynchus was perfectly adapted for the coastal environment in which it lived. Its long tail had a diamondshaped flap of skin at the end and was perhaps used to help this pterosaur steer.